VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a joint test assembly is scheduled to launch from North Vandenberg Monday between 3:01 a.m. to 9:01 a.m.

The launch is an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy.

The missile’s three unarmed re-entry vehicles are expected to travel approximately 4,190 miles, hitting a pre-determined target near the Kwajalein Atoll.

The 576th Flight Test Squadron, which will direct the missile launch, installed tracking, telemetry and command destruct systems on the missile to collect data and meet safety requirements. Maintenance and operations task force personnel from the 91at Missile Wing, Minot AFB, ND are conducting operational tasks leading up to launch.

Col. David J. Buck, the 30th Space Wing commander, is the launch decision authority for this mission. Lt. Col. Lesa K. Toler, the 576th FLTS commander, is the mission director. A crew visiting from Minot AFB will launch the missile under the direction of the 576th FLTS.

This launch, the first of three in 2009, comes at a time of change within the missile world, as the Air Force moves closer to combining its nuclear missile and bomber assets into a fledgling Global Strike Command.

“The move to Global Strike Command means that we can re-build the way we do business from scratch,” said Colonel Toler. “This is a great opportunity for us to write our future. We are already the best at what we do, but now we are currently looking at our processes to see how we can do our job faster and more efficiently.”

The entire ICBM community, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, will use the data collected from this mission for continuing force development evaluation.

Here is a Google Earth image of what I think the Minuteman III flight path will be. The yellow pin is Vandenberg AFB Launch Complex. The white pin in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is the Kwajalein Atoll. The other whit pin will be my location on the San Clemente Pier. Hopefully i will be able to capture a nice early morning flight path image.

Click on the image to see a larger view.

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