Washington: The stress and strain of flying through outer space proved too much for a futuristic Pentagon weapon, causing it to fail a key test flight last December.
Pressure caused by “outer space-related dynamic environments” on the Missile Defense Agency’s Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) wreaked havoc on the weapon’s control system, causing it to fly off course moments before hitting its target, according to an MDA statement released today.
The EKV is a defensive weapon designed to take out enemy ballistic missiles in mid-flight. It is a key element in the Pentagon’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program.
The weapon used during last December’s failed flight test was a more advanced version of the EKV already in place at missile defense locations in California and Alaska, according to the release.
During the test, a ballistic missile outfitted with an EKV, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., was supposed to knock out a dummy missile target launched from MDA’s test site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The EKV-equipped missile was on track to hit the target missile up until the final moments before impact, MDA officials explained. Right then, a “guidance error” in the EKV caused it to miss the target missile as both missiles flew through the upper reaches of outer space.
Both weapons ended up crashing somewhere in the Pacific ocean.
In the aftermath of the failed test, MDA engineers concluded that glitches in the EKV’s guidance system were not caused by design or “quality control” problems with the weapon itself. The guidance system failed because it could not withstand the space portion of the test flight, according to MDA.
Further study showed that the guidance system problems found on the test weapon did not affect the EKV’s currently in the continental United States, agency officials pointed out.
“Corrective design steps are being pursued and tested on the ground” to find out which aspects of the space flight damaged the weapon’s guidance system. Agency officials plan to begin a new round of testing by next spring, according to the statement. Keep reading →