The National Missile Defense Joint Program Office of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, supported by elements of the U.S. Army National Missile Defense Program Office, Huntsville, Ala., and the Air Force 30th Space Wing, Vandenberg AFB, Calif., conducted the first flight test of a candidate infrared sensor designed for possible use with the National Missile Defense (NMD) program early this morning. The purpose of the test was to test the ability of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) sensor to identify and track objects in space, not to perform an actual intercept during this mission. Initial indications are that the EKV successfully identified and tracked the simulated threat targets.
A Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV) topped with the EKV sensor launched successfully this morning at 12:01 AM EST from Kwajalein Missile Range in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean. The EKV sensor payload included an optical seeker, data processing system and telemetry. The seeker and data processing systems are the eyes and brain of the EKV, enabling it to intercept an attacking intercontinental ballistic missile. Approximately 21 minutes before the PLV was launched a Multi-Service Launch System, a specially configured Air Force Minuteman II missile, was launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. carrying a number of simulated threat targets.
The EKV sensor was built by Rockwell International (now Boeing North American), and involves the use of a highly-sensitive infrared silicon-based focal plane array. The sensor is packaged to look out the side of the launch vehicle through an aluminum, high-performance telescope. Lockheed Martin produced the PLV air vehicle and MSLS, and was responsible for mission-level integration and launch operations.
Early next year, a competing EKV sensor built by Hughes Aircraft is scheduled to perform the same kind of test. Both EKV contractors have also begun to procure hardware for an actual intercept attempt scheduled for late next year. After each company performs an intercept test, one of the EKV designs will be selected for an NMD integrated system test scheduled for late 1999.
The NMD development program is a vital part of the Defense Department's plan to design a system to defend against long-range ballistic missiles which could be aimed at the United States in the future. Current plans include developing over the next three years the technology necessary to deploy an NMD system. At the end of this three-year period, a decision will be made regarding deployment of the system based upon the potential threat to the United States from a ballistic missile attack.
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