The Airborne Laser program capped a successful year by recently achieving its final 2007 milestone, prime contractor Boeing announced. ABL teammate Northrop Grumman completed inspection and refurbishment of the high-energy laser components that were previously tested successfully in a system integration laboratory at Edwards AFB, Calif. Together with Boeing, Northrop also completed all technical drawings for the laser’s installation on the host 747-400F aircraft, incorporating improvements learned during the laboratory tests. These two activities together constituted the fifth and final of the Missile Defense Agency’s “knowledge points” or goals for ABL in 2007. “These achievements represent outstanding progress toward providing our nation with a mobile, speed-of-light capability to attack ballistic missiles during their boost phase,” Alexis Livanos, president of Northrop’s Space Technology sector, said in the company’s Jan. 3 release. The ABL team now is integrating the high-energy laser on the 747 and plans an extensive series of system-level ground and flight tests before attempting the first lethal shootdown of an in-flight test ballistic missile in 2009. Congress, however, remains somewhat skeptical of the program technological maturity, stripping $35 million from the program in 2008 defense policy bill and requesting an independent review.
Reports of production troubles on the SpaceX rocket that could contend for military cargo deliveries happened to coincide with a different company’s concept receiving an early nod—one that might not require a rocket at all.