By Jason B. Cutshaw, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public AffairsJune 29, 2018
(Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series on the Black Dagger/Boosted Zombie Target ballistic missile launch.)
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- One of the biggest lessons learned is you can get better results from zombie launches if you boost their performance.
The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center's Test Execution Support Division, or TESD, received results from its recent launch of a Black Dagger/Boosted Zombie Target, or BZT, from McGregor Range at Fort Bliss, Texas, into White Sands Missile Range, or WSMR, New Mexico, during a risk reduction flight, or RRF, June 7.
"We learned several important things from this particular risk reduction flight," said Cain Crouch, TESD general engineer and launch target test director. "First and foremost, we proved that we could accurately predict the trajectory of the missile and basically make it land where it was intended. Second, we intentionally initiated the Flight Termination System, which demonstrated that the FTS would disable the missile in flight, which is important for missile flight safety purposes.
"And third, we demonstrated that we could accurately predict where the first stage booster would land after separation," he added. "This is important for flying longer trajectories outside of White Sands Missile Range because we have certain areas where we have to drop the booster for safety reasons."
Black Dagger/BZT is a Zombie Pathfinder with a first stage Terrier motor providing greater range and velocities than other TESD target systems.
TESD developed Black Dagger/BZT, along with Zombie and Zombie Pathfinder targets as a suite of low-cost targets using government-owned rocket components that have reached the end of their useful life. Rather than demilitarizing the rocket components, SMDC's TESD re-purposes the hardware, saving taxpayer money.
The Zombie suite of targets was developed in support of the Program Executive Office Missiles and Space Lower Tier Project Office by TESD along with Orbital ATK, Teledyne Brown Engineering and NASA for future testing with advanced missile defense systems.
Crouch said the flight was an "on-range" demonstration flight and considering that it was a success, the team believes that WSMR will grant approval to fly the missile from locations further outside the range in the future. The addition of these new locations will allow TESD to fly missiles across longer distances.
He added that these increased distances allow them to represent a variety of new threats for their missile defense customers and will likely bring them new customers.
Crouch also talked about how this launch differed from previous launches.
"This launch was the first launch of our two-stage missile, which is referred to as Boosted Zombie or Black Dagger," Crouch said. "The launch of a two-stage missile presents a whole new set of challenges when compared to a single-stage missile such as first stage booster separation, second stage ignition, increased velocities, increased aerodynamic loading, increased heating, etc. Obviously, we proved that our team was able to overcome those challenges to successfully conduct this test.
"Considering that this flight was very successful, the most exciting thing to come from this launch is that we believe we will now have the opportunity to fly this missile from new, longer-range locations," he continued. "Those new locations present even more challenges for our team, and we look forward to meeting those challenges.
"None of the success that we have had would be possible without the extremely hard work of each individual on our team," Crouch added. "Every individual on our team is willing to do any job asked of them. This eagerness coupled with the leadership of our chief, Kevin Creekmore, has created a very flexible, dynamic and low-cost team, and I'm thankful to be a part of it."
One of the team members talked about lessons learned from the perspective of the ground launch team.
"The two stage launch requires a little more equipment and target preparation during set-up but the procedures leading up to mission day remain the same whether it is a one or two stage launch," said Ricky Judy, TESD Ground Support Equipment lead and pad chief during the launch. "We were not nervous, but we were unsure what effects would be placed on the launcher during the launch. The success of the mission did give us the confidence that we can make modifications to the launch site and launcher that will be of benefit for future launches."
Judy said the launch team is an outstanding mix of civilian and contractors focused on accomplishing the mission throughout all phases of the test from set-up to tear-down.
"There is a great deal of esprit de corps and camaraderie that makes being part of this team very special and rewarding," Judy said. "We have built a strong relationship with the WSMR range operations personnel that ensures all facets of the mission are covered from initial planning phases to completion of the mission.
"We learned a great deal from this risk reduction flight that will pay dividends for future launches," he added. "We continue to refine procedures, incorporate launcher and ground support improvements and become a more cohesive team after every launch."
Another teammate talked about what made the launch memorable and how the team is looking forward to the future.
"This was the most exciting launch I've been a part of," said Meeda Bosse, TESD general engineer and launch assistant test director. "I'm new to the team, but most of the team has been working on this target for a long time. Everyone was so excited when it was successful. It was amazing to get to see years of hard work pay off with such a successful target."
Bosse said since this was the first time a boosted target was flown, the biggest positive is the path forward. She added that there has been a lot of buildup to the launch and its success opens up a lot of doors for future targets.
"There are always things we learn from each launch that we can use to make the next one better," Bosse said. "With this being the first time this configuration of the target was launched, we learned several things that we can use on the next launch. But overall things went really well."