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KEI First Stage Motor Completes Static Firing Test

By | June 18, 2007

      The Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) completed a test firing of the first stage rocket motor, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced.

      KEI contractors have been told to concentrate on development of the boosters, and to hold off on developing mobility systems (such as the launcher and fire control), though eventually that capability will be part of the KEI program, according to industry program leaders briefing the media.

      Eventually, KEI is moving toward a 2013 test where it will intercept and destroy a target ballistic missile in flight, according to briefers from prime contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] and KEI team mate Raytheon Co. [RTN], which builds the interceptor.

      However, the program itself has progressed well, briefers said.

      For example, the static firing test of the rocket motor was “highly successful,” said Craig Staresinich, vice president and general manager with Northrop Grumman.

      “We’ve met our milestones to date on schedule,” said Chuck Ross, vice president with the Raytheon KEI program.

      The static test firing at the Alliant Techsystems Inc. [ATK] facility in Promontory, Utah, the company making the rocket motor, included ignition of the motor, a full-duration burn, and demonstrated performance of the motor assembly and thrust vector control nozzle. Orbital Sciences [ORB] also helped to produce the unit.

      Further tests are pending for static firings, leading to a booster flight test next year, according to MDA and the industry briefers.

      The KEI firing last week was part of a series of five planned first stage rocket motor ground tests.

      KEI aims to destroy enemy missiles soon after they launch, in their vulnerable boost phase, before they have the opportunity to spew forth multiple warheads, decoys or confusing chaff.

      The other ballistic missile defense (BMD) program that hits enemy missiles in their boost phase is the Airborne Laser (ABL), featuring a modified 747 aircraft by prime contractor The Boeing Co. [BA], a laser system by Northrop and a beam control/fire control system by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT].

      ABL also has suffered funding cuts, in ongoing fiscal deliberations on Capitol Hill.

      ABL is slated for a 2009 test in which it is to shoot down a target ballistic missile in flight.

      If ABL succeeds, it would become the U.S. boost-phase BMD program, edging out KEI. However, some lawmakers say that KEI in that event could transition to a BMD system geared to taking out enemy missiles later in their trajectory, such as in their midcourse flight.

      Briefers noted that KEI has the capability to destroy missiles in various stages of flight, “Our team has effectively applied mature, flight-proven technologies in a new way to produce a highly maneuverable, high-acceleration missile that can meet the boost/ascent or early midcourse mission,” Staresinich said.

      Over the past two years, the KEI testing program has met several critical proof-of-concept milestones for both the hardware and software to mitigate risk. These include successful completion of the Stage 2 static-motor firing earlier this year, four successful tests — ahead of schedule — of the system’s battle-management capability, and several successful high-speed wind tunnel tests, according to the contractors.

      Briefers said that in developing the boosters, they will ensure that any rocket produced will be able to be carried in mobile units.

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