50-Year Old Minuteman Motor Passes Static Fire Test

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As part of its mission of storing and maintaining decommissioned solid Intercontinental Ballistic Missile stages, the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Rocket System Launch Program, located at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, routinely conducts robust aging surveillance efforts including conducting static fire tests. However, one recent test of a Minuteman II motor was unique because it successfully tested a motor that was more 50 years old - beating the record of the oldest motor previously tested by nearly four years.

At 50 years and two months old, the motor was well past its operational days. Today motors from older versions of Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs are no longer used to propel missiles; however, they can still be used to launch scientific missions and targets to realistically test ballistic missile defenses for the Missile Defense Agency. To assure the continued safety and capability of the oldest rockets to ever fly, RSLP conducts periodic static fire tests like the one conducted on Oct. 13 in Utah.

During a static fire, the motor is instrumented, locked down and fired on the ground – horizontally in this case. Each motor is checked, refurbished, and certified prior to flight or static fire. It took more than 6 months to refurbish the 50 year old motor. Testing is required to ensure that the motors are still safe to store and/or able to perform within specifications. Short of actually flying a missile, static firings are the most realistic way of testing.

This static test had four main objectives:
- Checkout how aging effects:
o Ballistic performance (thrust, chamber pressure, etc.)
o Internal insulation erosion
o Nozzle
o Igniter
- Demonstrate subsystem reliability
- Evaluate New Split Line Putty formulation
- Vibration and temperature environments for SE-13G Battery

The static fire motor passed the test and provided data that shows the rest of the fleet is available to fly missions for another year.