Future US ICBM vehicle for Mk21A explodes 11 seconds after launch
WASHINGTON — The Minotaur II+ rocket, which the US will use for the LGM-35 Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] and W87-1 nuclear warhead – the Mk21A, conducted its first test, but it was unsuccessful. Days ago, on July 7th, during the first test at Vandenberg Space Force Base [VSFB], the rocket exploded 11 seconds after launch.
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Immediately after the explosion, which was very close to the launch pad, debris fell into the area. VSFB officials reported no injuries but said the explosion did cause a fire on North Base. A press release from Col. Kris Barcomb, Space Launch Delta 30 vice commander confirms what we know, adding that the base’s priority has always been security, and after the incident, emergency teams responded immediately. At the moment, the cause of the explosion is not clear, but the base announced that an investigation had begun.
The new US nuclear program includes the phased retirement of 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and their replacement with the LGM-35 Sentinel based on the Minotaur II+e rocket. The launch was scheduled to be the first test supporting the development of the Air Force’s new Mk21A reentry vehicle.
According to the Pentagon’s plans, the new intercontinental ballistic missiles should begin entering the equipment of the US strategic nuclear forces in 2029 to replace the outdated Minuteman III missiles that have been in service since the early 1970s.
The missile is being developed by Northrop Grumman Corporation under a contract with the US Air Force for $13.3 billion. The US Department of Defense estimates that the cost of acquiring new missiles will be more than $95 billion.
The United States now has 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, each of which can deliver up to three nuclear warheads at a distance of 12,000 km. They are the only force-based intermediate ballistic missiles in the triad of US strategic nuclear forces.
Minotaur II+ is a suborbital launch system. At the moment, the US Air Force is in stage 3 of its development – launch and flight tests. By July 7, the Minotaur II+ had performed various test launches, the last one being the only failed launch.
The Mk21A is the new carrier of the W87-1 nuclear warheads. This model nuclear warhead is extremely powerful. According to available data from open sources, its power is equal to 300 kilotons – 15 times more powerful and devastating than the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. The W87-1 is part of the W87 family – a warhead with a long history and one of the oldest in the US Army inventory. Sources say the W87-1 has improved security and safety in its use.
The name of the missile [Sentinel] was announced by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall on April 5 2022 in a press release.
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