Launch Alert

Brian Webb (
Thu, 15 Jan 1998 00:27:22 -0500


                                Brian Webb, KD6NRP
                             Thousand Oaks, California
        Web Page:

                                             1998 January 13 (Tuesday) 21:30 PST

                Missile Defense Test To Be Visible Across Southwest

    A missile launch scheduled for 17:39 PST on January 15th should be visible
    in four western states and northern Mexico.

    The U.S. Air Force will launch an MSLS missile (a modified Minuteman II) on
    a ballistic (non-orbital) trajectory from Vandenberg AFB, California towards
    an impact area near Kwajalein Island in the central Pacific.

    The vehicle will hurl a simulated reentry vehicle and decoys towards and im-
    pact area about 400 miles north of Kwajalein.

    While the MSLS is in flight, a second missile carrying a sophisticated sen-
    sor package will be launched from Meck Island in the Marshall Islands. The
    sensor package will attempt to detect and track the incoming RV and decoys.

    The missile to be launched from Vandenberg will fly a steep ballistic arc
    and reach a maximum altitude of about 500 miles. If the missile is launched
    on time*, the sky will be either in evening twilight or dark, depending on
    your location.
    Several seconds after launch, when it reaches the upper atmosphere, the
    smoke trail and exhaust plume will be backlit by the sun and create an
    impressive sight visible as far away as central Arizona, central Nevada,
    southwestern Utah, most of California, and northern Mexico.

    Besides providing a fine visual display, the launch should also be a great
    photo opportunity. If you're within 200 miles of Vandenberg, a 35mm camera,
    50mm lens, tripod, and Fujicolor 400 print film is all you'll need to catch
    the event on film. If you're more than 200 miles away, use a 105-180mm lens
    and Fujicolor 800. When you shoot your photos, place the center of your
    viewfinder on the brightest part of the exhaust plume and use your light
    meter to get an exposure reading.

    As the launch date approaches, refer to my web page for updates (the address
    is given above). Also, call the Vandenberg Launch Update Line at 805-734-
    8232 extension 61857.

    The above information is UNCLASSIFIED and was obtained from public affairs
    officers at Vandenberg AFB and the Strategic Defense program office in Wash-
    ington, D.C. The above information has been approved for public release.

    *The launch window runs from 17:39 to 20:39 PST.