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U.S. interceptor missile test over Pacific fails

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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, California (CNN) -- The U.S. military's project to develop a long-range missile capable of finding and knocking out another missile in midair suffered a setback Wednesday.

The Pentagon said a failure of a booster rocket prevented an intercepting warhead from reaching its target during testing with a long-range ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean.

The Missile Defense Agency said in a statement that it was not able to complete the test because the kill vehicle interceptor and booster rocket failed to separate, preventing the interceptor -- called the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle -- from engaging the target warhead in space.

The modified Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile was launched (at 3:26 a.m. EST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

About 20 minutes later and 4,800 miles away, a missile carrying an interceptor was launched from the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Facility in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Booster has failed before

The statement said the interceptor's booster rocket, which also failed during a previous test, was an incidental part of the test and its failure prevented the military from testing the equipment in question.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the systems under scrutiny did not indicate problems. The official also said an operational booster rocket is under development and will begin testing next spring.

The flight test, the eighth in the series, would have been the first for a development radar and an airborne laser prototype. Five of the tests have successfully "killed" their targets, and three have failed.

Testing of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system began in October 1999.

The intercept was to have been the first involving a nighttime launch of an interceptor missile. It was intended to destroy the "enemy" missile at a point some 140 miles above the central Pacific.

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