The Air Force launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., just after midnight Wednesday. The missile was launched as an operational test at 12:03 a.m. Pacific time, according to an Air Force Global Strike Command release. The launch was “an important demonstration of our nation’s nuclear deterrent capability,” Col. John Moss, 30th Space Wing commander, said in the release. The Air Force regularly picks a Minuteman III missile from its fleet and a crew from across AFGSC to conduct a test launch, with the last test held in February.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.