MSX Successfully Observes Combined Experiments Program Flights

March 06, 1997

The Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) -- a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) satellite launched last April to gather data for future space- and ground-based missile defense systems -- has tracked two medium-range missiles, known as Low Cost Launch Vehicles (LCLV). Part of the Combined Experiments Program, these LCLV flights were designed to demonstrate the ability of space-based optical sensors on MSX to perform key missile defense functions -- acquisition, tracking and discrimination in the mid-course phase of missile flight -- on realistic targets against realistic backgrounds.

The two MSX flight experiments were launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., each on a 135-degree azimuth. The first launch occurred Feb. 12, 1997, at 4:00 p.m. EST. The second launch occurred Feb. 23, 1997, at 5:06 a.m. EST. Both experiments impacted in the Atlantic Ocean as planned.

Program officials report that the primary MSX sensors collected several minutes of high-quality data that is now undergoing preliminary analysis at the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command (USASSDC), Huntsville, Ala. Booster and post-boost vehicle performance was nominal, as was the trajectory. All payload objects were successfully deployed and the MSX on-board sensors collected high-quality data over the entire flight trajectory. All support sensors and ground-based radars functioned nominally, as well.

"The CEP flight experiments have been extremely successful," says Max Peterson, MSX Program Manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md. "The two LCLVs performed according to plan and the MSX satellite performed flawlessly. MSX collected data with all of its sensors and the program achieved all of its objectives for this mission."

The experiments were planned and executed by the MSX Cooperative Target Experiments Team, located at the USASSDC, under the direction of BMDO. The LCLV launches are managed by the National Air Intelligence Center, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

A secondary experiment was executed simultaneously with both CEP flight experiments. Part of the Battle Management Command, Control and Communications (BMC3) technology program, the MSX Real Time Track and Fusion Demonstration showed the ability to fuse MSX data with data acquired from other participating sensor platforms. The resulting target trajectories were used to cue another sensor platform viewing the CEP flight experiment.

"This experiment was a very significant first step in learning how to incorporate midcourse track data from a low-Earth-orbiting sensor into a missile defense system," says Dr. John Mill, MSX Project Scientist. "It will help battle managers get ready to begin accepting data from the U.S. Air Force's Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)/Low satellites when they become operational early in the next century."

The observatory-class MSX satellite was launched on April 24, 1996, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., into a high-inclination, circular, near sun-synchronous Earth orbit at 561 miles (903.5 kilometers) altitude. Round-the-clock operations are being conducted from APL.

Built and operated for BMDO by APL, MSX is the first system demonstration in space of technology to identify and track ballistic missile signatures during the midcourse phase of flight -- the flight phase between booster burnout and missile reentry. During its lifetime MSX will detect, track and discriminate realistic targets against terrestrial, Earth-limb, and celestial backgrounds. The satellite's imaging capabilities will also support a wide variety of "dual use" research involving global atmospheric change, astronomy, and space contamination and debris.

MSX management for BMDO includes Col. Bill Smith, Program Manager, and Maj. Pete Kurucz, Deputy Program Manager. APL Program Manager is Max R. Peterson. MSX Project Scientist is Dr. John Mill of the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan. MSX Chief Scientist is Dr. A. T. Stair Jr., of Visidyne, Inc.

Principal Investigators for the MSX mission are assigned according to major program experiment areas: Glenn Light, Early Midcourse; William Prestwood, Cooperative Targets; Dr. E. Michael Gaposchkin, Space Surveillance; Dr. Gerry Romick, Shortwave Terrestrial Backgrounds; Dr. O. Manuel Uy, Contamination; Dr. Thomas Murdock, Data Certification and Technology Transfer; Robert O'Neil, Earth-limb/Auroral Backgrounds; and Dr. Stephan Price, Celestial Backgrounds. The MSX program is supported by approximately 100 scientists from 30 institutions.

Johns Hopkins University

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