Minuteman II Missile Launch

October 14th, 2002


A Minuteman II missile was launched from Vandenberg Airforce Base at 7:00 PM carrying a dummy war head to a target in the central pacific were it would be intercepted as part of the anti-ballistic missile program. These photos were taken from the Ronald Regan Library in Simi Valley, which was quite fitting since the target location for the missile was the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The weather was better than expected considering the amount of cloud cover over Southern California. It was quite hazy, as you can see from the second photo, due to the high humidity and low temperatures. I was concerned that the lens on the camera would fog up and I wouldn't get any photos at all. The visibility in Simi Valley was about seven miles, however the sky was pretty much unobstructed in the direction of Vandenberg.

Several people have commented that they saw the missile blow up. What was seen is one of the separation phases of the rocket with unspent rocket fuel crystallizing in the upper atmosphere. The rocket then went on it's way toward the Mid-Pacific where, a few minutes later, it released it's payload of a dummy warhead. The dummy war head was successfully intercepted by the missile defense system.

Another popular topic seems to be the "secrecy of launch dates". Launch dates are not kept secret, in fact they must issue warnings to boaters off the coast of California near the base days in advance of the expected launch time. Because of possible technical difficulties and weather conditions a specific time isn't set for the launch instead a window of several hours is set. If the weather is fair and there are no technical difficulties the missile will be fired a the beginning of the launch window, which was 19:00-23:00. Last nights launch occurred at 19:01.

If you have a radio scanner or are a HAM Radio operator then you can monitor the WB6OBB Santa Barbara repeater on 147 MHz for up to the minute information on the launch schedule. Last night the WB6OBB repeater included a 5 second count down from Brian Webb, who was on the base to monitor the launch. The "Vandenberg Launch Net" usually starts about 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the launch window.

For more information check out the informative links below.

Links of interest:
Space Archive
Rawhide Space Page II

Photos by Tracy Justus
Copyright (c) 2002