CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A 6,000-pound research satellite successfully tracked 15 mock Soviet nuclear missiles around the globe today in a major test for the "Star Wars" plan to build a missile shield in space.
Seven sensors on the satellite and hundreds at ground stations gathered data that could help determine if it is feasible to build a split-second response system in space and whether the satellite can distinguish a real missile from a decoy.
"We believe we had a very successful mission," said Army Maj. Andy Green, program manager for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, at a news conference today.
"We successfully deployed all the objects on time, and the observations all were carried out," he said.
Backup System Used
He added that one of the satellite's seven sensors, an infrared device, failed, but there were backup systems on board.
Green said the mission ended today but it will take about 10 days to assemble all the data from the satellite and ground stations before the degree of success can be determined.
The $250-million exercise began Monday evening with the launch of a two-stage Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral. (Story, Page 4.) The entire second stage shot into orbit more than 250 miles high. Within four hours, it had deployed all 14 simulated Soviet rockets and began the first of 200 tracking maneuvers like those that would be needed for an orbiting Star Wars battle station.
Rocket From Pacific
A 15th suborbital target payload was launched by a small rocket fired from the Pacific Missile Range at Barking Sands, Hawaii. Green said this provided missile plume data that could help develop instruments for detecting a hostile missile coming off a launch pad.
After the first few hours, officials said they were elated with results.
"We will have a suite of sensors looking at 15 objects over many orbits," Gordon Smith, deputy director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Office, said at a news conference. "Altogether we're very, very pleased with the start."
The office said four of the payloads contain motors that were fired to simulate a Soviet rocket as it climbs off a launch pad. The 11 others played the roles of Soviet missiles coasting through space before releasing their multiple nuclear warheads.
Lasers, radar instruments, optical devices and infrared and ultraviolet sensors followed the payloads against the varying backgrounds of land, ocean, horizon and space.
"One of the things that's most important to us is what we refer to as target characterization," said Col. Ray Ross, director of the program's kinetic energy directorate. "Exactly what does the object look like, how does it behave, what can we expect to see against varying backgrounds. . . . This data will build the data base on how the Strategic Defense Initiative System will observe objects in space."