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Vandenberg Air Force Base Lull In Launches To End With Missile Test

After six months without blastoffs, base will conduct Minuteman 3 ICBM launch early Sunday morning

Members of the 576th Test Squadron oversee the launch of an unarmed Minuteman 3 missile on March 27, 2015, at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The base’s Western Range is set to commence normal operations after a relocation project that included renovating base facilities. Click to view larger
Members of the 576th Test Squadron oversee the launch of an unarmed Minuteman 3 missile on March 27, 2015, at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The base’s Western Range is set to commence normal operations after a relocation project that included renovating base facilities.  (Michael Peterson / USAF photo)

With the Western Range declared ready to resume launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base after a six-month lull, an unarmed Minuteman 3 missile is set to become the first liftoff early Sunday morning.

The operational test launch of the Air Force Global Strike Command ballistic missile is planned for 12:01 a.m. Sunday from an underground silo on North Base. 

However, the launch window remains open until 6:01 a.m. in case of delays due to unfavorable weather or technical troubles at Vandenberg or downrange.

“This is our first launch following six months of scheduled downtime on the Western Range,” said Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander and launch decision authority for Sunday's mission. “The 30th Space Wing team is well prepared and we are ready to get back to business.”

At the start of the year, Col. Christopher Moss told a joint meeting of the Lompoc and Santa Maria chambers of commerce that the base expected a busy but compressed year due to a project to relocate critical Western Range equipment. 

The Western Range, with assorted systems, monitors just-launched rockets and missiles to ensure they remain on their planned flight paths. 

A special review in mid-August determined the Western Range was ready to resume missions, Vandenberg officials said. 

The project required moving more than 1,100 critical components, many of which were decades old and had not been powered down in years, Vandenberg officials said

“Given the age and fragility of the range equipment, we have been fortunate to not have any major breaks or failures,” said Col. Jennifer Grant, 30th Operations Group commander.

“I attribute that to planning and risk reduction measures employed by the government and contractor. Many of us expected there to be more complications and challenges than we encountered.”

With equipment relocated, crews also had to perform tests to ensure critical systems still work.

Upon blastoff, the weapon with a mock warhead will travel more than 4,200 miles to a predetermined target in the central Pacific Ocean.

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system, according to Global Strike Command.

The launch team, under the direction of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, located at Vandenberg, includes crew members and maintainers from the 341st Missile Wing, Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

The 576th is responsible for installing test-unique tracking, telemetry and command destruct systems on the missile, which collect data and ensure safety requirements are met.

The year began with a flurry of five missions — two missile tests, a missile-defense test, a Falcon launch a Delta IV launch — before Western Range work began, with as many as 11 launches initially scheduled during 2016.

In addition to the Minuteman test, an Atlas V rocket launch is planned for mid-September from Vandenberg.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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