Tag Archives: Vandenberg AFB

13 September 1985

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-17-MC Eagle, 76-0084, “Celestial Eagle,” ASAT missile launch, 13 September 1985. (U.S. Air Force)

13 September 1985: Major Wilbert D. Pearson, U.S. Air Force, flying McDonnell Douglas F-15A-17-MC, 76-0084, Celestial Eagle, launched an anti-satellite missile in a test, approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, on the central coast of California.

From level flight at Mach 1.22, Major Pearson pulled into a 3.8 G zoom to a 65° angle of climb. On reaching 38,100 feet (11,613 meters) and having slowed to 0.934 Mach, the LTV ASM-135 missile was automatically launched. At 1:42 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the 30 pound (13.6 kilogram) kinetic interceptor collided with the Solwind P78-1 satellite at an altitude of 345 miles (555 kilometers) and a closing speed of 15,000 miles per hour (21,140 kilometers per hour).

ASM-135 first stage ignition. (U.S. Air Force)
Ball Aerospace Solwind P78-1 (NASA)
Ball Aerospace Solwind P78-1 (NASA)

Solwind P78-1 was an Orbiting Solar Observatory satellite built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., of Broomfield, Colorado. The satellite had been launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base, 24 February 1979, and was in an almost circular orbit. P78-1 weighed 1,870 pounds (848 kilograms). Degraded batteries had made the satellite difficult to work and it was planned to terminate the mission when it was selected as the target for the ASAT.

The ASM-135 was a three-stage guided missile using a Boeing AGM-69 Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) as its first stage and an LTV Aerospace Altair 3 rocket as the second stage. The third stage was the homing vehicle, which used an infrared seeker to intercept the targeted satellite. This was not an explosive warhead. The satellite was destroyed by the energy of the very high speed impact. The ASM-135 is 18 feet (5.48 meters) long, 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) in diameter and weighs 2,600 pounds (1,180 kilograms).

This incident was used as a plot device in Tom Clancy’s speculative World War III novel, Red Storm Rising.

22 years later, Celestial Eagle was assigned to the 125th Fighter Wing, Florida Air National Guard, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, and was flown by General Pearson’s son, Captain Todd Pearson of the 390th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. F-15A-17-MC 76-0084 was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 19 August 2010.

Major General Doug Pearson, USAF (Ret.), with Captain Todd Pearson, USAF, and the “Celestial Eagle,” 13 September 2007. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 March 1986

An LGM-118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile begins to emerge from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California. (U.S. Air Force)
LGM-118 Peacekeeper launch. (U.S. Air Force)
A LGM-118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile leaving an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the coast of California. (U.S. Air Force 021126-O-9999G-011)
The cold launch system ejects Peacekeeper from its canister with high-pressure steam. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Shock-absorbing tiles, which help the missile exit its canister, fall away as Peacekeeper is launched. (U.S. Air Force photo)
LGM-118 first stage solid-fuel rocket engine firing as shock absorbing tiles continue to fall away. (U.S. Air Force)

7 March 1986: An LGM-118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with eight unarmed Mark 21 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).

U.S. Air Force maintenance crews use a overhead crane and hoist to remove and install W87-0 warhead/Mk-21 Reentry Vehicles from the nose section of an LGM-118 Peacekeeper missile during training at Vandenberg AFB, California. (U.S. Air Force 000701-F-2828D-003)
LANDSAT 7 image of Kwajelein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 12:29:01 UTC, 7 July 2014. (NASA)
Mark 21 MIRV warheads arrive at Kwajelein Atoll, 7 March 1986. (Department of Defense)

This photograph shows what it looked like on the receiving end at Kwajelein Atoll, 4,100 miles (6,598 kilometers) away.

Under START II, multiple warhead missiles were deactivated. The last of the LGM-118 Peacekeeper was removed from service by 2005. Some of the boosters have been used for satellite launch vehicles.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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