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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 7:04 pm | Fair 58º


Weekend Minuteman Test Launch Planned From Vandenberg AFB

An operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is scheduled this weekend from Vandenberg Air Force Base, one of two reportedly planned within a week.

Liftoff of the three-stage, solid-fueled weapon and its mock warhead is planned between 11 p.m. Saturday and 5 a.m. Sunday from an underground silo on North Base.

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

“This mission continues a long string of vital ICBM flight tests from Vandenberg Air Force Base,” said Col. J. Christopher Moss, 30th Space Wing commander and the launch decision authority.

“The launch not only demonstrates the capability of the Minuteman III weapon system, but also the tremendous capabilities of Airmen who maintain and operate it. The men and women of the 30th Space Wing are proud to partner with the Air Force Global Strike Command team to conduct this important launch,” Moss added.

The launch team, under the direction of the 576th Flight Test Squadron located at Vandenberg, includes aircrew members from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, Offutt AFB, Nebraska, and crew members and maintainers from the 91st Missile Wing, Minot AFB, North Dakota.

For many tests, the commands to send the weapon into flight typically are completed by a key turn performed by crew members sitting in an underground launch control center at Vandenberg.

However, for this test the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron’s involvement means the commands will come from the Airborne Launch Control System with crew member aboard the Navy's E-6B Mercury Strategic Command Airborne Command Post aircraft.

The military says the Airborne Launch Control System provides a “survivable means” to launch the ICBM force in the event other methods are not available.

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

A second Minuteman test reportedly is planned at the end of the week from the base.

Earlier this year, Moss said the Vandenberg would have a busy but compressed launch year due to work on equipment involved in monitoring just-launch rockets and missiles.

So far this year, Vandenberg has hosted three other launches: a Falcon 9 rocket with NASA satellite, a missile-defense interceptor and a Delta IV rocket with a top-secret spacecraft for the National Reconnaissance Office.

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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