Retired missile parts will help the Air Force test future weapons technology during a $40 million mission scheduled for Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The Minotaur 4 Lite, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., is set to lift off from Space Launch Complex-8 on south Vandenberg between noon and 5 p.m. The launch date and time are dependent on favorable weather.
Minotaur will carry the arrowhead-shaped Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2, built by Lockheed Martin Corp. for the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.
“Falcon HTV-2 is a joint effort between DARPA and the U.S. Air Force to develop hypersonic technologies that will provide the U.S. military with the capability to respond, with little or no advanced warning, to threats to our national security anywhere they might occur around the globe,” DARPA officials said in a written statement.
For this test, the HTV-2 will be carried into Earth’s upper atmosphere, detach from the rocket and then descend into a glide across the Pacific Ocean at more than 15,000 mph, according to DARPA.
The mission is scheduled to end with HTV-2 hitting the ocean near the Kwajalein Atoll, approximately 4,200 miles southwest of Vandenberg. The vehicle should break up upon impact, DARPA said.
Minotaur 4 Lite employs the first three solid-fueled stages from retired Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, unlike the Peacekeeper, the Lite version doesn’t use the fourth stage.
Minotaur 4 missions have been delayed by a fleetwide problem with the third-stage gas generator, a flaw uncovered during testing, Air Force officials said.
“We have designed, tested and procured a fleetwide fix for the problem,” said Space and Missile Systems Center officials.
The DARPA mission moved to the front of the line ahead of others because of “the shorter call-up period of the payload,” Air Force officials said.
A March 31 static fire test “went very well and further confirmed the fixes made” to the faulty part, officials said, adding that results “boost our confidence for a successful launch.”
After this launch, other Minotaur 4 missions this year include carrying the Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) craft scheduled for early July from Vandenberg. Two additional launches are set to occur later this year from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.
A Minotaur 1 rocket is set for launch from Vandenberg in the fall, with another scheduled for late November from Wallops Flight Facility, Va.