Missile Defense Test Sets Milestone With First Space-Based Tracking Intercept
The US Ballistic Missile Defense system had another successful test this week, which set the noteworthy milestone of being the first time that space-based tracking data was used to guide an interceptor missile destroying a medium-range ballistic missile target. The intercept vehicle was the Standard Missile-3 Block IA, made by Raytheon, maker of the widely used Patriot system, and marks the 22nd successful intercept for the SM-3 program according to the company.
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U.S. Navy sailors aboard missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG-70) received tracking information from space tracking and surveillance satellites and launched the missile before the shipboard SPY-1 radar detected the target. The Aegis BMD Weapon System (Lockheed Martin here) then guided the missile using tracking information from the space-based assets until the target was detected and tracked by the SPY-1 radar.
The missile defense system, consisting of a multitude of programs, involving all the major conglomerates of the US military-industrial complex that proudly and profitably take part in the endeavour, and costing several hundred billion dollars is a foster child of said complex and shiny example of awesome military high-tech. While it will most probably and hopefully never be used on Earth, it could maybe one day in the future still be useful to intercept rogue asteroids similar to infamous 2012 DA14 who is just barely missing our planet today, or even much smaller comets, like the one that suddenly exploded over Russia today, destroying windows and even a large factory.
Now lets have the company reps their say:
"Aegis has achieved many firsts, but using accurate tracking information from a satellite to flexibly enable expanded battlespace and the capabilities of the sea-based Aegis BMD system may prove to be one of the program's most significant milestones," said Nick Bucci, director of BMD development programs for Lockheed Martin. "For a long time, many have believed the best path forward for missile defense is an architecture that combines flexible sea-based defenses with persistent space-based capabilities. This test proves that technology and that architecture can be a reality."
STSS-D (Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrator) consists of two satellites with various tracking equipment to support research and development of the Ballistic Missile Defense System, and was built by Northrop Grumman. It can detect and track ballistic missiles and other cold objects (like asteroids? Or just hostile satellites..) in space.
"STSS-D's unique vantage point in space allows the [Raytheon!] sensor payload to see the threat early in its trajectory and provide launch quality data sooner than nearly any other option," said Bill Hart, VP for Raytheon's Space and Airborne Systems business. "We can give our naval warfighters extra time to analyze and respond, by providing target data before the ship can track the threat. That's a tremendous advantage."
The test proves the "launch on remote" concept, which was first demonstrated during testing in April 2011 when a U.S. Navy destroyer used track data provided by a Raytheon-made AN/TPY-2 radar deployed on Wake Island to engage and destroy an intermediate-range ballistic missile target using an SM-3 Block IA.