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Missile-Defense Interceptor Flies From Vandenberg Air Force Base

Test conducted just before 2 p.m. Thursday after weapon popped out of underground silo on North Base

The launch of a U.S. Missile Defense Agency flight test of a Ground-based Interceptor takes place at Vandenberg Air Force Base Thursday.
The launch of a U.S. Missile Defense Agency flight test of a Ground-based Interceptor takes place at Vandenberg Air Force Base Thursday.  (Gene Blevins / LA Daily News photo)

A missile-defense interceptor blasted out of an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Thursday to test a new component and assess the weapon’s ability to distinguish between a target warhead and decoys. 

The weapon launched for a non-intercept test just before 2 p.m. from the northern section of the base, becoming the second liftoff of what is scheduled to be a busy year at the base.

The outcome of the test was not immediately available.

"Both the 30th Space Wing and the Missile Defense Agency worked hard to get the team ready for this test" said Col. Shane Clark, 30th Space Wing vice commander and the launch decision authority. "Today's launch is testament to the professionalism of all involved and the close relationships we have with our missile defense partners."

The Missile Defense Agency conducted the test to determine whether a new thruster could handle the flight environment.

A previous thruster's vibrations during a flight test in 2010 caused the vehicle's "brain" to became disoriented, leading to the redesign.

In a second mission, Thursday’s test also aimed to collect data about the three-stage interceptor’s advanced target discrimination capabilities.

Officials hoped to get data about whether the interceptor could distinguish the target versus countermeasures and decoys. 

A missile-defense interceptor blasted off for a test Thursday afternoon at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
A missile-defense interceptor blasted off for a test Thursday afternoon at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

"The test involved another extremely valuable opportunity to make the entire system more reliable with focus on new engineering solutions to further enhance the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) making it more reliable," said Riki Ellison, director of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

Missile-defense experts believe a target missile from a rogue nation, such as Iran or North Korea, would include the warheads along with countermeasures and decoys in an effort to stump the missile-defense systems ability to intercept an attack.

Vandenberg is home to four interceptors sitting on alert with 26 others stationed in Alaska. 

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense program is designed to protect against a limited long-range missile attack. Critics say the program launched a new arms race.

Vandenberg's launch manifest calls for a Delta 4 rocket launch early Feb. 10 from Space Launch Complex-6 on South Base with a top-secret payload on board.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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