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North Oscura Peak is an Air Force Research Laboratory site in the northern portion of the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The facility is designed to assemble and evaluate advanced sensor, tracking and atmospheric compensation systems. The goal is to improve the U.S. Air Force’s ability to track missiles and then efficiently transmit laser energy through the atmosphere to destroy those missiles.
The site is managed by the Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate, headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base, about 140 miles to the north.
Atop the 8,000-foot-high North Oscura Peak, a 30-inch telescope is used to send and receive laser light to and from Salinas Peak, another site approximately 35 miles away. Sophisticated instrumentation is used to measure the extent that Earth’s atmosphere distorts the laser light. Then, deformable optics are used: mirrors that can change their shape to compensate for the distortions.
The research gained from these tests will benefit any follow-on efforts to the Airborne Laser – a large cargo aircraft, equipped with a high-energy laser that can destroy theater ballistic missiles hundreds of miles away. In contrast to the Airborne Laser, which is designed to operate at altitudes around 40,000 feet, these tests are taking place on peaks that are between 8,000 and 9,000 feet high. The denser air at these lower test elevations makes it possible to take the collected data and scale it to the higher altitudes and longer ranges envisioned for the Airborne Laser. Research at this site may be applied on the first three Airborne Laser production aircraft or as advanced weaponry on tactical aircraft.