By Airman 1st Class Stephen Cadette, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The 2006 launch schedule for Vandenberg is looking to be the busiest in six years, with twice the launches planned as last year, according to the 30th Space Wing Plans office.

With almost as many different launch vehicles there are agencies which execute the programs, this year’s launch schedule will demonstrate a variety of missions.

“This will be another exciting launch year for Vandenberg,” said Col. Jack Weinstein, 30th Space Wing commander. “We get to follow up the flawless launch of the last Titan IV in 2005 by launching the first evolved expendable launch vehicles, the Delta IV and Atlas V, from Vandenberg in addition to the many other missions slated for this year. We have the most exciting mission in the Department of Defense, and no one does it better.”

One mission is the management of DoD space and missile testing. An organization that carries out that mission is the 576th Flight Test Squadron. A squadron with a heritage extending back to World War II, its mission is to evaluate the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile force.

“We test all aspects of the ICBM weapon system through rigorous software testing, simulated electronic launches conducted on the fielded system, and operational test launches here at VAFB using operational missiles (to) ultimately improve the ICBM force,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Davis, 576th FLTS commander. “As a result, the tremendous capability of our ICBM force is available at a moment’s notice   to deter any potential adversaries.”

Five Minuteman III ICBM launches are scheduled this year, the first for Feb. 15. The 576th will work with the other missile wings at Minot AFB, N.D., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., to complete these missions, Colonel Davis said.

“The first launch of the year will be a certification flight for the Mk21 warhead, testing our ability to place the newer, safer and more accurate reentry vehicle previously fielded on the Peacekeeper ICBM, on the Minuteman III,” the colonel said. “We’re partnering with the 526th ICBM Systems Wing and Department of Energy to complete certification for using the Mk21 warhead on the Minuteman III.”

Another of Vandenberg’s missions is the emplacement of polar-orbiting satellites. Vandenberg is unique in that it is the only site the DoD uses to launch payloads into polar orbit. Such satellites can predict the weather, map the earth’s surface, relay reconnaissance information and more.

Several familiar launch vehicles like the Delta II and Pegasus are in the planning stages for the upcoming year. The Pegasus rocket, Vandenberg’s second 2006 launch scheduled for Feb. 28, is carried to 40,000 feet by a Stargazer aircraft where it is released and launched into low-earth orbit. The Pegasus successfully launched NASA’s Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology, or DART, satellite from Vandenberg April 15, 2005.

The 1st Air and Space Test Squadron performs mission management and launch operations for small space launch vehicles like the Minotaur, a low-cost four-stage space launch vehicle made from the first two stages of Minuteman II and the upper stages from Orbital Suborbital’s Taurus launch vehicle. The next Minotaur mission is scheduled to launch the end of March.

In addition to the older technologies like the Pegasus and Minotaur, Vandenberg is preparing for a paradigm shift to meet the next generation of space launch needs with the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

“The boosters on Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V and the Boeing Delta IV represent the latest in advanced launch technology,” said 1st Lt. David Romero, 4th Space Launch Squadron. The EELVs from Vandenberg are the only means for the nation to put medium or heavy payloads into polar orbit. Vandenberg has plans to launch both Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles in 2006.

For an up-to-date launch schedule, go to