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.
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.