The US Air Force conducted an early morning suborbital test of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, on Wednesday, September 7.
Air Force Global Strike Command launched the ICBM from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 1:13 a.m. PT (4:13 a.m. ET; 09:13 GMT). The test was conducted to “validate and verify the safety, security, effectiveness and readiness of the weapon system”, according to a Space Force Statement (opens in a new tab).
The ICBM Minuteman III was carrying three undisclosed test re-entry vehicles, according to a Space Force Video (opens in a new tab) released after the test. A re-entry vehicle is the payload of an ICBM that re-enters the atmosphere after a launch, usually a nuclear warhead, although hypersonic glide vehicles will surely become common re-entry vehicles as they are developed. The missile traveled 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers) at hypersonic speeds reaching 15,000 mph (24,140 km/h), or about 4 miles (6.4 km) per second.
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The missile fired on the test launch was randomly selected from stock at FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, disassembled, and shipped to Vandenberg, where it was reassembled before launch. These tests are usually planned years in advance and pre-launch notifications have been sent to the Russian government in accordance with the New START arms control treaty.
Col. Bryan Titus, vice commander of Space Launch Delta 30, said in the statement that these launches “demonstrate the readiness of America’s nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.” .
Space Launch Delta 30 oversees all launches from the West Coast of the United States, including those that place satellites in polar orbit. “The Airmen and Guardians who carry out this vital mission are some of the most skillfully trained and dedicated personnel in the United States Air and Space Force,” Titus added.
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Dutch-based satellite tracker Marco Langbroek images shared via Twitter (opens in a new tab) navigational warnings issued before launch that describe the path of the ICBM from Vandenberg to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The Minuteman III, or LGM-30G, was first deployed in 1970 and is scheduled to be phased out by 2030 and replaced by the next Sentinel ICBM LGM-35A (opens in a new tab) currently in development.