Missile Test 'Pucker Time'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 16, 2001 DoD and contractor personnel had been working for months on the test of the ground-based interceptor, but "pucker time" started the moment a target missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. At 10:40 p.m. Eastern time July 14.
While it was just one test of the system, much was riding on success. The last two tests had failed, one because of a clog that shut down the kill vehicle's infrared system and the other when the kill vehicle and booster did not separate.
Each test of the system, designed to protect the United States from a small number of intercontinental ballistic missiles, costs $100 million.
The Minuteman II booster with the simulated warhead roared over the Pacific, beginning the test. Early-warning radars and other space- and ground-based sensors tracked the missile and fed data to the Battle Management Command, Control and Communication center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The center relayed the data to Kwajalein, where engineers loaded it aboard the ground-based interceptor.
The target missile left the atmosphere. The shroud surrounding the warhead opened and a decoy deployed. The decoy, shroud and warhead flew together -- would the kill vehicle be able to distinguish the real threat?
About 20 minutes after the Vandenberg launch, the ground- based interceptor shot into the air. Engineers kept feeding information updates to the missile.
A small cheer went up when the kill vehicle separated from the missile. The last test had failed because that did not happen.
The kill vehicle oriented itself using onboard sensors to check star positions. Then it acquired the incoming warhead, shroud and decoy. The kill vehicle, now completely independent, discerned the warhead and maneuvered to intercept. The kill vehicle hit the warhead at a closing speed of around 15,000 miles per hour. Both were instantly vaporized.
The whole test took approximately 30 minutes. "Pucker time" ended in cheers.