The Air Force launched an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM yesterday from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., in an operational test meant to assure the continued reliability and accuracy of the nation’s land-based strategic deterrent. The missile’s re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 4,190 miles before touching down at its pre-determined impact point near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg managed the test flight. Personnel also participated from the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., the base from which the test missile was selected, and the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, Offutt AFB, Neb. The Offutt airmen entered the preparatory commands and executed the launch command/key-turn procedures during the countdown from onboard a Navy E-6B aircraft to test the airborne command post role in launching the Minuteman missile in case something happens to the missile’s ground-based launch control center. The Air Force conducts these Minuteman III flights several times each year—the most recent test in August—and periodically tests the airborne element. (Vandenberg report by 2nd Lt. Raymond Geoffroy)
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.