Here’s How America’s $925 Million Missile Defense System Shoots Down A Target

SM-3 Missile

The Missile Defense Agency just awarded Raytheon $925 million for development of the newest version of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), which will improve on the already hugely successful SM-3 designs in service right now.

 

This project will be a collaboration between Japan and the United States. The two navies use the SM-3 to potentially destroy short and intermediate range ballistic missiles.

Currently, the SM-3 Block IA is in service and the Block IB will be by installed 2015. This new version is an upgrade, the Block IIA.

So far, the SM-3 program has had 21 successful missile interceptions. Destroying incoming ballistic missiles, often referred to as the “hitting a bullet with a bullet” problem, is remarkably difficult.

We took a look at what the SM-3 does.

 

The SM-3 is launched from a Vertical Launch System on a ship

The initial lift is from an Aerojet rocket booster

The missile connects with the command center on the ship right after launch, receiving guidance from the AEGIS system

After it runs out of fuel, the booster separates from the missile

The second stage rocket is a Aerojet MK 104 dual thrust rocket motor

The missile is now being guided by the AEGIS system on the command ship

The command center is tracking the trajectories of the SM-3 and the target simultaneously

Once the second stage rocket motor runs out of fuel, it separates

An Alliant Technologies MK 136 third stage rocket motor takes the missile out of the atmosphere

After finishing the first pulse, the missile pitches forward…

… so that it can eject the nosecone

The missile, with an exposed warhead, then corrects back on course

The missile coasts, closing in on the target

Then, the missile begins its second pulse

Back on earth, the final commands from AEGIS are relayed to the missile so that it can successfully intercept

The missile is carrying out its final rocket propelled stage

Final updates from the AEGIS system and the SPY radar are carried out

The warhead is ejected from the third stage rocket motor

Control is now assumed by the on-board guidance system

The SM-3’s guidance system really shines, as all that the folks on earth can do is watch

The guidance system diverts the warhead to the target using a two-color camera and seeker

The warhead is “kinetic” and doesn’t have any explosives on it

It’s designed to destroy the target using the amount of energy it’s built up over its journey

The kinetic warhead slams into the target warhead…

The energy of the impact is calculated to be 125 megajoules, equivalent to a ten ton truck slamming into a wall going 600mph

Back on earth, the team congratulates themselves on a job well done

That’s how you shoot a missile in space.

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