Raytheon Missile Systems has completed a 9,600-square foot, $9.2  million expansion of its Space Systems Operations factory at its Tucson International Airport plant complex.

Tucson-based Raytheon said the expansion of the “Space Factory” will boost its ability to create rocket-propelled “kill vehicles” that hunt down and destroy ballistic missiles in space.

The nonexplosive Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles, or EKVs, made at the factory are fitted in the noses of ground-based interceptors, which blast them out of the Earth’s atmosphere where they track enemy missiles and destroy them by high-speed impact.

The interceptors, part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, are launched from underground silos in California and Alaska, providing a first line of defense against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

Smaller kill vehicles are deployed in the tips of Standard Missile-3 interceptors on U.S. and Japanese ships, providing regional defense against short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the company noted.

Wes Kremer, Raytheon vice president of air and missile defense systems, said in prepared remarks that the company is on track to deliver 11 new EKVs by 2018.

Kremer said the plant expansion also will give Raytheon the capacity to begin producing the first of a new, longer-range version of the SM-3 under cooperative development with Japan, the Block IIA.

The factory is now nearly 47,000 square feet in size, including Class 4 through 8 clean zones and custom workspaces with bench-testing equipment rooms, Raytheon said.

Problems with a newer version of Raytheon’s EKV led to several test failures until a successful test last June. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has ordered a redesign of the kill vehicle, and the Pentagon’s fiscal 2016 budget request includes $279 million for that development effort.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at 573-4181

or dwichner@tucson.com.

Senior reporter covering business and technology for the Arizona Daily Star/Tucson.com