OMAHA — The government and industry team working on deployment of the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD) has ironed out many of the quality control issues that prevented the interceptors from taking off in consecutive tests in 2004 and 2005, according to the senior industry official overseeing the effort.

Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manager for Boeing Missile Defense Systems, cited the successful intercept of a ballistic missile target during testing on Sept. 1 as evidence that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Boeing have put a much stronger emphasis on quality control as they were directed to do by an independent review team formed after the test failures in late 2004 and early 2005.

The successful test also demonstrated that attention to detail, and not the fundamental capability of the system, was the stumbling point in the test failures, Shanahan said during an Oct. 11 interview at the Strategic Space and Defense Conference here , sponsored by Space News and the Space Foundation.

“The physics didn’t change and the technology didn’t change,” Shanahan said. “It wasn’t about whether the technology was valid, it all had to do with quality and reliability.”

MDA had planned the Sept. 1 test with the goal of learning more about the system’s performance, rather than intercepting the ballistic missile target. The focus of the test was on the “end game” of the intercept — the final seconds where the GMD kill vehicle approaches the target, processes sensor data needed to close in on the missile, and uses its thrusters to make adjustments to its course, Shanahan said.

Shanahan declined to comment on what Boeing had learned about the system, as the company was still preparing its analysis of the demonstration at the time of the interview for a briefing for MDA director Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering that was scheduled for Oct. 20.

The next demonstration of the GMD system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is scheduled for December. While no obstacles stand in the way of that date, the test could be postponed if the government and industry team find improvements that they would like to implement with the system based on data from the previous test, Shanahan said.

Unlike the Sept. 1 demonstration, intercepting the target will be one of the primary goals of the upcoming test, said Rick Lehner, an MDA spokesman. The demonstration also will feature the first use of the Aegis radar for tracking an incoming target during an intercept attempt, though the data from that radar will not be used to aim the interceptor at the incoming missile, Lehner said.

Shanahan said his team is looking forward to ramping up the complexity of the intercept demonstrations, adding that they are making sure they retire as much risk as possible with the GMD system before adding major new goals to the tests.

Some of those goals, which are not currently on the testing schedule but ultimately will be a part of future demonstrations, include targets that deploy countermeasures and taking shots at multiple incoming missiles, Shanahan said. He declined to speculate on a timetable for those goals, other than to say that “the sooner we can demonstrate and prove out our capability, the better.”

Meanwhile, Boeing already has begun internal preparation for MDA’s planned space-based missile defense test program, something that the agency plans to include in its 2008 budget request. As Boeing pursues this work, it will draw on its experience with missile defense programs like GMD, as well as spacecraft development from its space and intelligence division, Shanahan said.

Shanahan declined to comment on which systems the company has developed to date could be applied to space-based interceptors, other than to say that “there are some obvious dots that can be connected.” However, despite considerable experience in both the space and missile defense realms, Boeing is awaiting direction from MDA on its desires for the system before it goes forward with a proposal, he said.

“It’s a question of what they want, not what we have parked on the shelf,” Shanahan said.

The company has conducted a “very extensive” modeling and simulation effort to examine a range of options for space-based interceptors based on variables including cost and capability, he said.