Missile Defense Booster Flies
Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today
WITH THE TARGET date for deploying the initial elements of a strategic ground-based missile defense system about one year away, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) conducted on August 16 the first flight test of a prototype booster that is meant to play a key role in the system. MDA and the booster's manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corporation, declared the test a success.
The three-stage booster, which was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, traveled approximately 5,300 kilometers and reached a peak altitude of nearly 1,900 kilometers. No intercept was attempted as part of the test, which was limited to checking whether the booster would work properly and hold its course.
The booster's role in the planned system is to lift an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) into space. After the booster's third stage burns out, the EKV is supposed to separate from the booster, home in on an enemy warhead, and collide with the target in a powerful collision.
Development of the booster is far behind schedule. The Pentagon initially aimed to have the prototype booster take part in intercept testing in early 2001. But production delays and a December 2001 booster flight test failure forced MDA to conduct all eight of the system's intercept tests-five of which have succeeded-with a less powerful, two-stage booster. …