'Holy Grail' of Missile Defense Reached

They help predict your weather, connect your phone calls, and broadcast your CSI: Miami. Add one more thing to the list of what satellites can do: Watch your ass. Space News (a great source for space news) reports that a pair of Northrop Grumman satellites tracked a ballistic missile launch through every stage of its flight. This is the first time orbiting satellites have been able to accomplish such a feat. Northrop Grumman's Doug Young boasted, "It's the Holy Grail for missile defense." Good, no more wars. Anyone got any playing cards?

While anti-missile rockets have been used for decades, they have always relied on relatively nearby radar systems. These latest tests mean much earlier detection of missile launches is possible. How early? Try as soon as they're fired:

On March 16, an ARAV-B short-range target missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. An STSS satellite detected the heat signature of the launch with its acquisition sensor, and then its gimbaled tracking sensor locked on to the boosting missile, Young said. The tracking data was successfully relayed to the other satellite, which continued to observe the target as it coasted through space, re-entered the atmosphere and splashed down in the ocean, he said.

It's so simple! If only we spent more time calibrating our gimbaled tracking sensor and less time perfecting our deep-dish pizza bagels (it'll work, damn it!), we'd be rich; the U.S. Missile Defense Agency plans on spending $1.34 billion over four years on this technology.

Tests will be preformed later this year to determine whether or not the satellites' missile data is good enough for ship-based interceptors to use effectively. We can't wait. If the Terminator and Goldeneye have taught us anything, it's that nothing can go wrong with space-based weapons systems.

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STSS Satellites Demonstrate 'Birth to Death' Missile Tracking [Space News]

[ngreene@villagevoice.com / @nickgreene]


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