LOS ANGELES - The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency breathed a sigh of relief after carrying out a successful flight test of an interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Saturday's test was on the Boeing-designed ground-based defense system's ability to defend the U.S. from ballistic missile attacks.
It involved the launch of a three-stage interceptor from a silo on the base at 2 p.m. PST. After blastoff, the booster deployed the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle made by Raytheon Co. to a designated point in space.
Once separated from the booster, the kill vehicle executed a variety of preplanned maneuvers to collect performance data in space.
The test did not involve intercepting a dummy target missile.
"If a target missile were present, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle would collide directly with the threat warhead to perform a hit-to-kill intercept," the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement. "Engineering data from this test will be used to improve confidence for future intercept missions."
The kill vehicle is designed to lock on and eliminate high-speed ballistic missile warheads in space using nothing more than the sheer force of impact, known as a "hit-to-kill" defense, according to Raytheon.
Although the mission was deemed successful, the Missile Defense Agency has had a mixed record with the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System in the past.
Flight testing of the system was halted in early 2011 after a guidance error resulted in a failed intercept in a December 2010 test.
"Returning to flight has been the top priority for the ... program. We have used industry and government's combined expertise to solve a complex technical issue related to what the interceptor's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle experiences in space," Boeing program director Norm Tew said in a statement. "Today's success is an important step toward our next goal of a successful intercept test."
The Missile Defense Agency did not say when the next test would take place.
In a statement, the agency said: "This test is the critical first step in returning ... to successful intercept testing."