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By | April 30, 2007

      MDA Near Field Infrared Satellite Launched

      The Near Field Infrared (NFIRE) satellite for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) was launched at 2:49 p.m. ET yesterday from the NASA Wallops Island (Va.) Space Facility, MDA and General Dynamics Corp. [GD] announced.

      GD built NFIRE.

      The NFIRE satellite will collect high and low resolution images of a boosting rocket to improve understanding of missile exhaust “plume” observations and plume-to-rocket body discrimination during three plume signature types: targets of opportunity, dedicated missile fly-bys, and ground observations.

      Targets of opportunity may include aircraft flights, space launches, and missile tests at a viewing distance of 60 to 600 miles. There will be two scheduled fly-bys later this year by missiles launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

      Ground observations may include bright burning events such as forest fires, volcanoes, and static (on-ground) tests of rocket engines.

      MDA will use the data to validate and update the models and simulations fundamental to missile defense technologies.

      A secondary objective of the experiment is to collect types of infrared and visible light data for assessing early missile launch detection and tracking capability.

      The NFIRE satellite is carrying two payloads into low earth orbit aboard an Air Force four-stage Minotaur I space launch vehicle, contracted through the Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB] launch systems group.

      The primary payload is the Track Sensor Payload (TSP) which will be used to collect the images of the boosting rocket. The TSP was developed by Science Applications International Corp. [SAI] of San Diego, Calif., under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

      TSP will collect images of the exhaust plume from two rockets to be launched later this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., General Dynamics noted.

      The secondary payload is a Laser Communications Terminal (LCT) which will be used to evaluate the utility of laser communications for missile defense applications. The LCT was developed by Tesat-Spacecom and is provided by the German government as part of a cooperative agreement between the United States and Germany.

      General Dynamics is the system integrator for the NFIRE mission, responsible for the design and manufacture of the spacecraft, payload integration, full satellite system testing, configuration of the mission operation centers and a year of on-orbit operations support.

      Tomahawk Launched From Submarine, Flies Proper Route, Hits Target

      A Tomahawk Block III cruise missile launched from a submarine cruising in the Atlantic, and flew its correct course to hit a target, the Navy reported.

      The missile launched from a torpedo tube on the USS Connecticut (SSN 22).

      Seconds after launch, the test-configured Tomahawk transitioned to cruise flight.

      The missile flew approximately 602 nautical miles, cruising across Florida.

      It then entered the Gulf of Mexico, and made a button hook turn into the Eglin Air Force Base test range, where it performed a simulated Programmed Warhead Detonation (PWD) delivery on a target on the test range, followed by an automatic parachute recovery.

      This mission exercised GPS only navigation updates.

      As a precaution, safety chase aircraft followed the missile flight. The Tomahawk could have been guided by commands from those aircraft. Additionally, alternate safe landing zones were planned along the entire flight path, according to the Navy.

      AIM Spacecraft Launches From Vandenberg In Smooth Burn

      The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft lifted off smoothly from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., reaching Earth orbit to begin a two-year mission, NASA announced.

      AIM was chauffeured into space aboard a Pegasus XL rocket by Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB].

      The AIM mission is the first dedicated to exploring mysterious ice clouds that dot the edge of space in the polar regions. These clouds have grown brighter and more prevalent in recent years and some scientists suggest that changes in these clouds may be the result of climate change. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 16, 2007, page 7.)

      AIM will make simultaneous measurements of the main ingredients needed to form these clouds and will unravel the role of natural factors, such as the solar cycle and meteorology, from the possible role of anthropogenic factors such as carbon dioxide, which causes a warming in the lower atmosphere but a cooling in this region of the atmosphere 50 miles above the Earth surface.

      Ultimately, this research will provide the data needed to determine the role of polar mesospheric clouds as an important indicator of climate change.

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