Space and astronomy news and information for the American Southwest. Coverage includes Vandenberg AFB rocket and missile launches.

Vandenberg Successfully Launches Minuteman III

By 2nd Lt. Raymond Geoffroy, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

2008 November 5

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration test assembly was launched from North Vandenberg today at 1 a.m.

The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system's reliability and accuracy.

The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 4,190 miles to the pre-determined target near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The missile was launched under the direction of the 576th Flight Test Squadron. Operational tasks were conducted by maintenance and operations task force personnel from the 90th Missile Wing, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. Members of the 576th FLTS installed tracking, telemetry and command destruct systems on the missile to collect data and meet safety requirements.

"Tests like these are the cornerstone of nuclear deterrence," said Capt. Chris Terry, 576th FLTS test launch director. "We gather data on new modifications and aging components of the Minuteman weapon system to aide USSTRATCOM in operational planning."

Unique to this launch was the incorporation of airborne Launch Control System crews from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, Offutt AFB, Neb., which entered the preparatory commands and executed launch command/keyturn during the countdown.

"Every launch we perform introduces some unique test element; it never gets old," said Captain Terry. "For this launch we will use a contingency airborne system which will tell the missile to fire."

This airborne system is considered a fail-safe method of ensuring Minuteman III can fire even in the event of the missile losing contact with its Launch Control Center. The 576th FLTS periodically tests this method of launch in order to gauge the system's effectiveness and reliability.

Col. Steven W. Winters, 30th Space Wing vice commander, was the spacelift commander. Lt. Col. Lesa K. Toler, 576th FLTS commander, was the mission director for this test launch.

"The fact that we can randomly select an on-alert operational ICBM from any missile wing and launch it without making any modifications to the components to hit a bulls-eye target is a testament of the systems reliability," Colonel Toler said. "I have complete confidence in our ICBM weapon system to perform as advertised."

The data collected will be used by the entire ICBM community, including the United States Strategic Command planners and the NNSA/Department of Energy laboratories.

"Tests like this make Vandenberg the first line of defense in terms of strategic deterrence," Colonel Winters said. "Thanks to the hard work of the 30th Space Wing and the 576th Flight Test Squadron, we continue a proud legacy of ensuring global stability through assuring the readiness and reliability of our ICBM fleet."

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