Has the GMD National Missile Defense System Ever Been Intercept Tested at Night? (June 3, 2013)

An interesting question regarding testing of the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system is whether or not the system gas ever been intercept tested at night.  That is, has the GMD system ever attempted to intercept a target that was not directly illuminated by the Sun?  As the table below shows, the answer is yes, but not successfully.

IFT-10NightLaunch 

The GBI interceptor launch (from Kwajalein) during the only GMD test in which the interceptor was launched at night, IFT-10, conducted on December 11, 2002.    (http://www.mda.mil/global/images/system/gmd/ift103.jpg)

The table shows the launch locations and times (extracted from MDA press releases and news reports) for the fifteen intercept tests of both prototype and operationally-configured GMD ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs).    Data for intercepts claimed as successful are in black and data in red is for failed intercept attempts.  As the table shows, the latest interceptor launch time for a successful intercept is 3:19 pm local time (IFT-7).  Taking into account the relative time and location of the target and interceptor launches, it is clear that all the successful intercept attempts took place with the target directly illuminated by the Sun.

There is one intercept attempt that clearly took place at night (IFT-10), in which the interceptor was launched at about 8:45 pm local time and in a direction generally heading away from the Sun.  However, the intercept attempt failed when the kill vehicle failed to separate from the final booster stage.

Two other intercept attempts were conducted in which the interceptor launch would have occurred shortly before local sunset, IFT-13c and IFT-14.  However, in both these cases, the interceptor failed to launch.  Without knowing where the intercepts were planned to take place (and I haven’t tried to find out),one cannot be certain if the targets would have been sunlit, but give the targets’ launch locations (Kodiak) and typical intercept altitudes (250 km) in earlier tests, it seem likely they would have been.

 GMDTestTimesTable

                (Click on Table for more readable version)

Location Key:      VN = Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

                                   KD = Kodiak, Alaska

                                   KW = Kwajalein Atoll.

All times are local (either standard or daylight savings, whichever is in effect).

Kodiak is four hours behind east coast time.

Kwajalein does not use daylight saving time and is 17 hours ahead of EST and 16 ahead of EDT.

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