AST participates in Navy missile tests

The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Airborne Surveillance Testbed, or AST, based at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, participated in the Navy Theater Wide Autumn Events. There were two launches during these events, the Terrier Missile Target-2 (TMT-2) and the AEGIS LEAP Intercept (ALI) program Target Test Vehicle-1 (TTV-1).

During the TTV-1 mission, AST demonstrated the ability of the Navy’s new Captive Carry SM-3 seeker built by Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, Ariz. This infrared sensor, installed in the AST’s cupola, was tested in support of the Navy’s Theater-Wide Missile Defense program. The SM-3 seeker acquired the targets using missile tracks developed by range radar and transmitted to the AST. This was the first time for the newly installed Captive Carry sensor to play a principal role in a mission.

AST’s role during the TMT-2 mission was to gather infrared truth data on the Terrier Missile Target using a long wavelength IR sensor which has been AST’s primary sensor for more than 60 data gathering missions.

The AST sensor platform is a Boeing 767-200 aircraft modified by the addition of an 86-foot long cupola with two sensor modules. The forward module houses the Hughes long-wavelength infrared sensor and the aft module houses the Navy SM-3 Captive Carry sensor. Operating at altitudes above 43,000 feet, the AST conducts long-range detection, tracking, and IR signature characterization of ballistic missiles in all phases of their flight, from boost through reentry. It can serve as a testbed for other experiments, when desired by the customer.

The AST has supported missions at ranges around the world, including Kodiak Island off Alaska, the Kwajalein Missile Range in the central Pacific, the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii, the Eastern Test Range in Florida, Wallops Island off the coast of Virginia, White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the Western Test Range in California, the European Space Agency’s Kourou French Guyana launch site, and Israel’s missile range.

The AST program is funded by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and managed by SMDC in Huntsville, Ala. AST continues to provide valuable IR phenomenology data and a unique testbed capability for BMDO and SMDC.