September 8, 2016
The mission which became known as “Delta 180” had its origins in a simple request from USAF Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, the first Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, the ancestor of today’s Missile Defense Agency. The request was essentially this: how could we do a space-based intercept against an ICBM in powered flight, in about a year? On its face, this was a ridiculous question. Not only was such a schedule obviously impossible, but such a mission, on its face, could not possibly be compliant with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Nonetheless, APL found a way, and a treaty-compliant mission architecture and a system design capable of being flown in about fourteen months were put forward to SDIO in the spring of 1985. Authorization to proceed was given in mid-May, and a successful mission ensued on 5 September 1986, despite the delay introduced by the failure of Delta 178 on 3 May 1986. Beyond the basic fact of demonstrating the viability of a hit-to-kill intercept against a powered target, the mission conferred considerable credibility in regard to discussions of strategic missile defense during the Reykjavik Summit later that year. It also established a model for how SDIO could and would conducted aggressive flight activities throughout the tenure of the first several directors. Delta 180 set the standard for many subsequent SDIO flight tests, and provided a training ground and an example for later programs as diverse as the Mid-Course Space Experiment (MSX) and DC-X. It remains a career highlight in the memory of all those who participated.
Dr. Michael D. Griffin is the Chairman and CEO of Schafer Corporation, a leading provider of scientific, engineering and technical services and products in the national security sector. He was the Administrator of NASA from 2005-09, and in prior roles was the Space Department Head at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, President of In-Q-Tel, CEO of Magellan Systems, and EVP and General Manager of Orbital Science Corporation’s Space Systems Group. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics, an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society. He has been honored with the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the AIAA’s Space Systems Medal and Goddard Astronautics Award, the National Space Club’s Goddard Trophy, the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement, the Missile Defense Agency’s Ronald Reagan Award, and the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal. He holds seven earned degrees, including a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland, and has been recognized with honorary doctoral degrees from Florida Southern College and the University of Notre Dame. He is a Certified Flight Instructor with instrument and multiengine ratings, a Registered Professional Engineer in Maryland and California, and the lead author of some two dozen technical papers and the textbook Space Vehicle Design.