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ASTS ushers in two new missions

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif -- A Peacekeeper Minotaur IV rocket is in its last stages of assembly. Minotaur IVs much like this one will be launched from Vandenberg in an effort to place smaller payloads in space at a smaller price. The program spawns from the ICBM program that spawned during the Cold War. The reuse of the rockets estimates a $70 million difference per launch.(Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif -- A Minotaur IV rocket is in its last stages of assembly. Minotaur IVs much like this one will be launched from Vandenberg in an effort to place smaller payloads in space at a smaller price. The program spawns from the Inter Continental Ballistic Missile program that came about during the Cold War. The reuse of the rockets estimates a $70 million difference per launch.(Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE, Calif. -- Vandenberg's space mission will be pulling in two brand new programs starting this spring.

The 1st Air and Space Test Squadron will lead the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) and Minotaur IV launch vehicle program will be arriving to Vandenberg this spring. 

"KEI is an interceptor system that will have its first five test flights here at Vandenberg," said 1st Lt. Anna Gunn-Golkin, a 1st ASTS launch mission manager. "The system is designed to intercept enemy missiles in the first few minutes after launch; it's very fast."

Although the testing is in an early stage, the 1st ASTS is looking forward to the capabilities it will bring to national defense.

"Having an interceptor that can eliminate a target in its first boost phase will add another layer of defense for Americans," said 1st Lt. Juan SiancasTao, also a 1st ASTS manager.

The team assembled to manage the KEI program will start by performing pathfinder (or "trailblazer") operations to acquire lessons learned prior to flight hardware arrival and handling.

Eventually KEI will be mobile to better adapt to the warfighter.

"Having a system that is mobile will give the U.S. more flexibility and security in its missile defense," Lieutenant Gunn-Golkin said.

The KEI would be able to intercept missiles much like America's inter-continental ballistic missile, which were used during and after the Cold War to support the United States' nuclear force. However, after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991, the U.S. has committed to significantly lower its number of nuclear weapons, according to the U.S. State Department website.

Since the signing of the treaty, ICBM's have had a smaller mission in the U.S. military, until now.

The Minotaur IV Launch Vehicle is based upon the Peacekeeper ICBM and will be used to launch satellites into space, said Master Sgt. David Grimes, the NCOIC of the 1st ASTS Space Launch Vehicle Flight. The reuse of the ICBM's will allow the space community to launch smaller payloads for a more efficient price.

"The Minotaur IV is a smaller rocket than those of the Atlas and Delta families, so it will allow small to mid-size payloads to be launched more efficiently," said Capt. Jason Niederhauser, a 1st ASTS launch mission manager. "Reusing Peacekeeper ICBM stages will cost around $30 million, compared to the $100 million of the closest similar-class launch vehicle."

The team hopes that the use of the Minotaur IV will get the space community a step closer to Operationally Responsive Space (ORS), Captain Niederhauser said.

"A current ORS vision is to be able to launch within 72 hours notice," he said. "Having a reliable rocket like the Minotaur IV will get us closer to that objective."

The new missions arriving at Vandenberg is part of the large variety of space operations that Team V operates. Vandenberg Airmen carry out a multi-million dollar mission, with the highest objectives of protecting the American people through missile defense and establishing and protecting the U.S.' space assets.