The ominously named Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) is the next advanced robotic weapon that could be deployed in space to defend against multiple incoming missiles. Designed and built by the US Missile Defence Agency, this little hovering craft will carry multiple anti-missile warheads to see off several threats.
To be honest, I didn’t write this post for the sake of showing off this robotic military tool, I actually think this is an interesting development for small, autonomous spacecraft. Also, when I watched the video of the test flight of the MKV, I had a wave of fear come over me. It may be small, but I sure wouldn’t like to bump into it during a dark orbit…
On Wednesday night, just as I came off air from show 4 of Astroengine Live, I received an excited message from Jack over at WPRT Radio. Knowing Jack would have started his Paranormal Radio show straight after mine, I read his message: “Have a look at the vidcast, I have a surprise for you.” Turning on the vidcast, I saw what looked like a scene from Terminator… or Robocop. What appeared to be a lot of muzzle-fire, inside a cage, in what seemed to be some kind of dungeon.
If you’ve ever played the classic first-person computer game shooters, like Doom or Quake, you’ll know what I’m talking about; the atmosphere of metal-against-metal, blood and guts warfare, with an element of worry that your opponent could be hiding around the next corner… just about to– *BANG* (damn. Got ‘fragged again).
Those feelings rushed back to me when I saw this video being streamed on Paranormal Radio:
See what I mean? Isn’t there a certain gun-oil and guts quality about that video? After closer inspection, I found out that it wasn’t special effects, it was real; a government defence agency test of a robot. A hovering, fire-spitting robot. The researchers obviously made no attempt to “pretty up” the test site, it looks pretty gloomy down there, only adding to the atmosphere.
So what are they testing?
This is another rung in the ladder for a viable missile defence system to be put into space. Although the “Star Wars” future that President Regan predicted in 1983 never really got off the ground, 25 years later the technology to make a space-based defence (and offence) platform is gradually being realised. In fact, as it turns out, the Missile Defence Agency is one of the departments evolved from Regan’s Strategic Defence Initiative.
The test carried out on December 2nd at the National Hover Test Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, CA, with aims to have the MKV hover under its own power and to track a surrogate target in a flight environment. The propulsion system of the robot showed off its obvious manoeuvrability when tracking its target. The Missile Defence Agency press release goes into the detail behind the MKV:
The MKV-L mission is to destroy medium through intercontinental-range ballistic missiles equipped with multiple warheads or countermeasures by using a single interceptor missile. During an actual hostile ballistic missile attack, the carrier vehicle with its cargo of small kill vehicles will maneuver into the path of an enemy missile. Using tracking data from the Ballistic Missile Defense System and its own seeker, the carrier vehicle will dispense and guide the kill vehicles to destroy any warheads or countermeasures.
Remember all the fuss about the US shoot-down of a defunct spy satellite back in February? In that interception of a fast moving target (i.e. a satellite), a basic missile plus kinetic warhead was used. A kinetic warhead does not carry explosives, it depends on its high velocity and mass (momentum) to collide with the target, destroying it. There is a huge dependence on the crew on the ground to guide the anti-satellite weapon to its target. As one BBC reporter pointed out, hitting a satellite at that altitude with a single warhead is like “trying to fire a missile through the eye of a needle.” Indeed.
Now send the MKV into space to deal with a dead spy satellite. It would be obliterated in seconds by the autonomous, fast reacting, rocket propelled interceptor.
Seeing the MKV operate is mind-blowing. To attain such a high degree of stability and manoeuvrability, all by such a small hovering craft, it is hard to understand the technology going into such a machine. It’s just a shame the motivation behind this compact propulsion system is war, we could sure use an idea like this to get around space (alas, military budgets swamp anything NASA gets)…
Source: Missile Defence Agency