By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Historical OfficeSeptember 13, 2017
As the missile defense programs of the Strategic Defense Initiative began to develop in the mid-1980s an assessment of suitable targets raised some concerns. The supply of surplus Minuteman I boosters used as targets in a variety of missile defense tests would be depleted by the early 1990s.
On behalf of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, now the Missile Defense Agency, the then U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command, now U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, initiated a program to explore the alternatives.
Working with Sandia National Laboratories, the command developed a new launch vehicle using surplus Polaris boosters. The result was the Strategic Target System, or STARS.
To meet the requirements set for the target system, two versions of the STARS were developed. STARS I consisted of refurbished Polaris A3 first and second stages and a new Orbus I third stage.
The STARS I can carry single or multiple payloads however, "the payloads cannot be deployed in a manner that simulates bussing."
With the development of a new fourth stage post boost vehicle, the Operation and Deployment Experiments Simulator, or ODES, the STARS II was able to provide the ability to maneuver payloads and deploy them after the third-stage motor had dropped off. Thus the STARS II increased the target's viability in both interceptor and sensor test programs.
The second and to date last flight of the STARS II occurred Aug. 31, 1996. Launched from the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, the STARS II completed a 1,000 second, 2,400 mile flight towards the Kwajalein Missile Range.
During the flight, STARS II deployed 26 test objects in support of the Midcourse Space Experiment, or MSX. These objects which included a simulated ballistic missile nosecone (reentry vehicle) and penetration aids, with varying speeds and trajectories were released above the atmosphere to evaluate the capabilities of space-based sensors in the midcourse phase.
Additional data was collected by radars and sensors in Hawaii and Kwajalein and aboard the Airborne Surveillance Testbed aircraft and the Cobra Judy X-band radar ship. The ground-based and mobile sensors provided trajectory identification, definition, stereo-viewing and cross-correlation verification to substantiate the MSX data collection.
Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, April 24, 1996, the MSX satellite was "the first BMDO's first long-duration satellite dedicated to characterizing missile signatures during the midcourse phase of flight."
One long-term goal for this program was to gain information on acquiring, tracking and discriminating between objects in space. The Aug. 31 launch was the first step towards this objective.
Equipped with infrared, ultraviolet and visible light sensors, the MSX satellite collected and recorded phenomenology data, such as size and reflectivity, on the STARS launch and deployment while stressing the sensors against various backgrounds in space.
In this case, the test was conducted during sunrise. This data was subsequently relayed to a laboratory for analysis and would later help refine existing models of radar transparent orbital debris; all of which would support the demonstration and validation of the space and missile tracking system formerly known as Brilliant Eyes.