Then and now: KTF contributions have evolved with changing national security needs
During KTF’s 41-year history, more than 350 rockets have been launched from the site. But KTF’s work has always waxed and waned with the political winds and national security priorities of the day, says Dick Hay, Manager of Range Integration and Lab Support Dept. 15406, who served as KTF’s on-site manager from 1990 to 2002.
In September 1961, following a three-year atmospheric nuclear test moratorium between the US and Soviet Union, the Soviets abruptly resumed testing, conducting 45 tests in two months. The US found itself flat-footed — unprepared to quickly resume its own program.
Congress demanded a response, and the US weapons community began preparations for Operation Dominic, a series of atmospheric and exoatmospheric nuclear tests conducted at and launched from islands in the Pacific south and southwest of Kauai.
By early 1962 the Atomic Energy Commission had acquired the use of part of a military reservation on western Kauai known as Barking Sands. From the site Sandia launched diagnostic rockets to measure the effects of the 29 Operation Dominic air bursts and five Dominic Fishbowl high altitude tests conducted in 1962.
The Barking Sands site later became the Kauai Test Facility.
In 1963, the US and Russia entered into an atmospheric test ban treaty that again outlawed above-ground nuclear tests and closed down KTF. But the US Senate, as part of the treaty’s ratification, required that the US maintain a readiness to conduct such tests, and KTF was rebuilt in 1964. Much of KTF’s maintenance funding continued under this readiness umbrella until 1976.
During the late ’70s and early ’80s, KTF was kept active by three launches of the developmental
Sandia Winged Energetic Reentry Vehicle (SWERVE), a DOE- and DoD-funded technology demonstration intended to provide precision delivery through use of a maneuvering reentry vehicle, says Dick.
Star Wars revival
In the mid ’80s the Reagan administration sought to revive rocket launch capabilities for the Strategic Defense Initiative development program, and KTF was modernized. In 1990 the site got a new launch pad, new electronics, new computer systems, and several permanent buildings, he says.
The upgrade included a 54-foot missile service tower to accommodate vertical launches of large missiles. Four Strategic Target System (STARS) three-stage missiles were launched at KTF from 1991 through 1996.
A fifth STARS launch from KTF is being planned, according to STARS program manager Eric Schindwolf, Manager of Missile & Flight Systems Dept. 15425.
The missile defense mission brought other new work to KTF in the 1980s and 1990s, including a series of countermeasures experiments and target discrimination experiments for which several diagnostic rockets were launched from Kauai, says Dick.
During the early ’90s KTF supported periodic scientific experiments, a nuclear depth-bomb test series, ionospheric studies being managed by
Los Alamos National Lab, and space-based sensor development projects for various agencies.
In the late ’90s KTF provided launch support for a steady stream of missile defense missions and in 1998 began to support Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense tests such as FM-5 by launching missiles that simulate enemy offensive systems. That work continues. (See "KTF’s future a moving target" below.)
Some tests more difficult
Among the more complicated flight tests Sandia has supported was the MSX mission in 1996, one of the STARS launches. The missile carried 26 experiment packages that were released into space in a timed sequence.
Strypi-Lace, another complicated and successful mission in 1991, required that KTF launch a Strypi rocket into space over Maui, where its trajectory paralleled that of an orbiting satellite that gathered data about the plume created by the Strypi’s burning third stage motor.
Close coordination with NASA was key as the KTF team attempted to insert the rocket into the exact space and time required to "rendevous" with the satellite, says Al Lopez, Manager of KTF and Remote Ranges Dept. 15419.
"Timing was everything," he says.
"Sandia’s flight test ranges at Tonopah and Kauai are enabling capabilities that have historically made critical contributions to many of the largest programs undertaken by Sandia," says Dick. "They also have been a powerful tool in attracting and satisfying customers for our engineering services."