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Vandenberg supports missile defense tracking test

A Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload, successfully launches at 11:57 p.m. September 23, 2008 from North Vandenberg.  The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Raymond Geoffroy)

A Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload, successfully launches at 11:57 p.m. September 23, 2008 from North Vandenberg. The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Raymond Geoffroy)

A Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload, successfully launched at 11:57 p.m. September 23, 2008 from North Vandenberg. The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joe Davilla)

A Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload, successfully launched at 11:57 p.m. September 23, 2008 from North Vandenberg. The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joe Davilla)

A Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload, successfully launches at 11:57 p.m. September 23, 2008 from North Vandenberg. The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joe Davilla)

A Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload, successfully launches at 11:57 p.m. September 23, 2008 from North Vandenberg. The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joe Davilla)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The central coast skies lit up once more as Team V successfully launched a space launch vehicle, the Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload Tuesday night at 11:57 p.m. from North Vandenberg.

The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite.

"Our goal was to get this vehicle as close to possible to the satellite during its third-stage burn phase," said 1st Lt. Jodie Pleisch, a NFIRE project manager from the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron. "From there, the satellite will gather data on the rocket plume."

This exercise provided an opportunity for the NFIRE satellite to collect high- and low-resolution images of a boosting rocket which will improve understanding of missile exhaust plume observations and plume-to-rocket body discrimination.

"This data will help promote better accuracy and a better missile defense system," Lieutenant Pleisch said.

In order to carry out this unique task, project managers from Vandenberg and their mission partners were faced with the challenge of getting two objects in space moving at speeds of several thousand miles per hour to within mere kilometers of one another.

"With the target in flight and the satellite in orbit we have to hit a very specific point in space at a very specific time," Lieutenant Pleisch said. "Basically, we're threading a needle."

Daunting though the task may seem, Team V made it happen and delivered the Chimera to its precise point in space giving the NFIRE satellite an up-close look at a missile in flight.

The 1st ASTS is a one-of-a-kind unit and the only team which could launch the target vehicle required for this experiment.

"We are a unique unit in the Air Force," Lieutenant Pleisch said. "We are the only unit which launches this Chimera-type vehicle."

Program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the exercise. The Missile Defense Agency, a joint service agency of the Department of Defense, will use this data to validate and update models and simulations that are fundamental to missile defense technologies.

Experiments such as NFIRE are a part of Vandenberg's unique role in testing, evaluating and improving space systems.

"For the past 50 years Vandenberg has been at the forefront of advancing space power." said Col. David J. Buck, 30th Space Wing commander. "This launch showcases Vandenberg Air Force Base's global impact and its critical role in advancing space and missile systems."