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Air Force Launches Suborbital Ballistic Missile In Weapons Test

An unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile blasted offearly Friday (Sept. 17) in the latest successful weapons test by the U.S. AirForce.

The Minuteman 3 missile launched from California's VandenbergAir Force Base, sending a single re-entry test vehicle into suborbital space ona flight that soared some 5,300 miles (8,530 km) across the Pacific Ocean. Thetest vehicle hit a pre-determined target about 200 miles (322 km) southwest ofGuam, the Air Force said in a statement.

Liftoff occurred at 3:03 a.m. local time (6:03 a.m. EDT,1003 GMT) from Launch Facility-09 at the Vandenberg base. A long-exposure photoof the launch showed the missile leave an arc of light across the predawnwestern sky. [Photo of the Air Force missile launch.]

A team of ICBM analysts are studying the Minuteman3 missile launch as part of an ongoing evaluation on thereadiness of the U.S. military's ICBM arsenal, Air Force officials said.? Thatteam includes experts from the Department of Defense and Department of Energy,they added.

"The launch processrequires tremendous teamwork and involves months of preparation," saidUSAF Col. David Bliesner, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander, in a statement."The data gained from these launches allows us to maintain a highreadiness capability and ensures operational effectiveness of the most powerfulweapons in the nation's arsenal."

Friday's launch test was thelatest in a several trials this year for the U.S. military's arsenal of Minuteman3 missiles.

Minuteman3 intercontinentalballistic missiles have a range of more than 6,000 miles (9,656km) and can travel at speeds of up to Mach 23 (15,000 mph or 24,000 kph) andreach heights of up to 700 miles (1,120 km) above Earth.

The weapons can reach altitudes higher thanthe International Space Station, which orbits Earth at an altitude of about 220miles (354 km), when they hit the peak of their flight trajectories.

Minuteman 3 ICBMs were first produced in June1970, though production stopped in December 1978, according to an Air Force factsheet. They are made of three distinct stages that, when assembled, stand about60 feet (18 meters) tall and weigh 79,432 pounds (32,158 kg).

The Minuteman weapon system was firstconceived of in the late 1950s as a strategic weapon with anintercontinental range to serve as strategic deterrent force for the U.S. military,the Air Force has said. The first Minuteman 1 missiles were deployed in thelate 1960s. The missiles are housed in hardened underground silos and watchedover 24 hours a day by launch crews consisting of two officers per shift.

Today, the weapon system arsenal consists of about450 active Minuteman 3 missiles located at bases in Montana, Wyoming and NorthDakota, according to the Air Force.

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