Dress Rehearsal

By Thomas Duffy / April 14, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Northrop Grumman announced today it has completed a full-scale dress rehearsal for the first Kinetic Energy Interceptor booster flight test, which is scheduled for later this year.

The Northrop team put together a full-scale booster using inert rocket motors and flight-qualified parts to make sure everything checked out with the booster, ground support equipment and facility structures, the company said. The work took place at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, the site of the upcoming flight test.

Using an extremely fast booster rocket, the KEI is being developed to provide combatant commanders with a mobile, land-based interceptor to defeat medium- to long-range ballistic missiles during the boost, ascent or midcourse phases of flight, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

A recently released environmental assessment of the KEI flight test programs shows the first four tests will consist of a two-stage booster, an avionics section and the nosecone/shroud. None of the first four flight tests would carry a kill vehicle. Future tests will likely include third-stage rocket motor and a government-furnished payload.

According to information MDA sent Congress with its fiscal year 2009 budget request, the first KEI flight test will take place before the end of June.

Under the budget plan announced April 6 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, the Defense Department will take a long, hard look at the boost-phase intercept mission. KEI and the Airborne Laser are both vying for the BPI mission. But ABL's fortunes seem to be waning as Gates announced he is recommending the program stay in research and development and forgo any thoughts of production.

During the April 6 briefing, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said DOD has a good midcourse and terminal missile defense capability.

“What do we need in the boost phase? What kind of attributes does it have for mobility and location, et cetera? Those are the things that we've got to understand before we go any further with the boost phase.”