Space kill vehicle suicides into ballistic missiles at 22,000 mph

Raytheon was awarded a beefy $636 million contract this week to provide the U.S. Missile Defense Agency with Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles. EKVs are spacecraft designed to obliterate other spacecraft (like ballistic missiles) by smashing into them headfirst at speeds of six miles per second.

Until such time as the Communist Soviet Union ceases to be a threat to democracy and freedom behind that Iron Curtain that it's set up between Stettin in the Baltic and Trieste in the Adriatic, ballistic missile defense must remain a national priority. Raytheon's EKV is currently the interceptor of choice for dealing with incoming threats from space, and when paired with a booster rocket and a sophisticated radar system, testing has proved that EKVs can successfully neutralize missiles a comforting 50% of the time.

To be fair, the job of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle is not an easy one. In its intercept phase, the EKV is moving at 22,000 mph, and it's trying to hit a target about the same size as itself head-on that's also moving at 22,000 mph, meaning that the EKV has to detect its target, track it, make sure that it's not a decoy, and then smack into it face first with zero room for error in just a fraction of a second. This means a big infrared detector (the gold tube in the pic), and some seriously badass maneuvering thrusters, which you can see in action in a similar vehicle from Lockheed Martin:

At orbital intercept speeds, there's no need for any sort of weapons payload: the EKV is the weapon, since an object moving at a combined velocity of 44,000 mph has enough kinetic energy to vaporize just about anything it manages to hit. Again, it's the "manages to hit" part that's the sticky wicket with this thing: with only eight successful intercepts out of 16 tests, we can only hope that this new contract will help Raytheon (and prime contractor Boeing) put together a system that we can all trust to keep us safe from the Reds.

EKV, via Raytheon

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook