Science

Anti-missile missile misses again, US military mum on meaning of mess

Bonus space news: wanna salvage a SpaceX Falcon 9?

By Richard Chirgwin

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Demonstrating again that anti-missile missiles work best under carefully controlled circumstances, a test of such a weapon fired from Hawaii has missed its target.

The US$30 million test was fired from the Kauai Aegis Ashore site in Hawaii. It was supposed to see a SM-3 Block IIA anti-missile missile intercept a target representing an incoming missile that was launched from an aircraft.

The US Pacific Command, contacted by CNN, confirmed that a test took place but not the outcome, saying only that the test took place on Wednesday morning.

The Raytheon SM-3 Block IIA is a joint US-Japan development built to provide a defence against medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Defense News noted that without further information from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) it's impossible to know whether the problem was in the interceptor, the targeting radar, or the Raytheon-developed Aegis weapons system used by the US Navy was at fault.

In June 2017, the same Raytheon missile was ruled out as the cause of a failed test. The MDA statement at the time said “The USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) detected and tracked the target missile with its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar using the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system. Upon acquiring and tracking the target, the ship launched an SM-3 Block IIA guided missile, but the missile did not intercept the target.”

The MDA had better luck in May 2017, trumpeting a successful test against an ICBM-class target – but the target made it easier by sending back tracking data.

SpaceX Falcon-9 surprise

In slightly-related news, here's an opportunity to watch out for, if you've got access to a large and fast ship: rocket salvage.

SpaceX today had another successful launch, this time for a GovSat mission.

Elon Musk's company didn't intend to recover the booster, which was previously used for a May 2017 launch. Instead, the plan was to test what happened operating it at “very high retrothrust”. So high, in fact, that the booster wasn't expected to survive the experience.

But as the Tweet below shows, rocketry remains an unpredictable endeavour.

Just one detail here: the drop happened in international waters, so if you had a boat quick enough to beat SpaceX to the drop-site, the law of salvage would apply …

SpaceX's GovSat-1 launch video is below. ®

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