NEW YORK — The U.S. Air Force launched an ICBM on a test flight June 30, sending the weapon on a suborbital trajectory that reached thousands of kilometers downrange over the Pacific Ocean.
The Minuteman 3 ICBM blasted off from a silo at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at 12:40 a.m. on a routine test flight that was monitored by analysts at the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Data from the test will be used to determine the readiness of the U.S. military’s ICBM fleet.
The launch sent the Minuteman 3’s single re-entry test vehicle about 6,759 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean to a predesignated target near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The atoll is home to the U.S. Army’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.
“These launches teach us a great deal and require a team approach,” Air Force Col. Carl DeKemper, the 576th Flight Test Squadron commander and mission director, said in a statement. “The launch was part of our continuous self-assessment of the technical and weapons system expertise of our Airmen and the powerful capability of the ICBM fleet.”
The test marked the second in less than a month of the Air Force’s Minuteman 3 missile. An earlier test launched from Vandenberg June 16.
The Minuteman 3 missiles have a range of more than 9,656 kilometers, can travel at speeds of up to Mach 23 (24,000 kilometers per hour) and reach heights of up to 1,120 kilometers.
That means the missiles fly higher than the international space station, which orbits Earth at an altitude of about 354 kilometers, when they hit the peak of their trajectories.
Minuteman 3 ICBMs were first produced in 1970, with production stopping in December 1978, according to the Air Force fact sheet.
The missiles are housed in hardened underground silos and are watched over 24 hours a day by launch crews consisting of two officers per shift. The first Minuteman 1 missiles were deployed in the late 1960s.
Today, Air Force’s Minuteman weapon arsenal consists of 450 Minuteman 3 missiles located at bases in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, according to the Air Force. The missiles are made of three distinct stages that, when assembled, stand about 18 meters tall and weigh 32,158 kilograms.
The ICBM test flight also marked the 1,900th launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base since 1957. The Air Force’s 576th Flight Test Squadron, 341st Missile Wing and 30th Space Wing all contributed to the test flight, Air Force officials said.