Source: http://santamariatimes.com/articles/2008/01/06/news/centralcoast/news05.txtProbe of failed missile launch from February continues at VAFB
By Janene Scully/Associate Editor
A component that acted suspiciously during a Minuteman 3 missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base last year is undergoing a series of tests so the weapon system's flights can resume this spring.
Two test launches in 2007 were delayed after officials spotted an “abnormal reading” in data from the Command Receiver Decoder during a February 2007 flight of a Minuteman 3 missile from Vandenberg. The CRDs, which are part of the flight termination system, receive signals if range safety officials need to destroy the vehicle because it's veered off course.
Officials said that even with a lower than normal power reading, the CRD continued to operate properly during that test. However, the first-time flaw led to convening an anomaly investigation team to seek the cause.
That problem delayed an April test, pushing it to at least June and then later to be paired with another weapon set to launch in the summer. However, as the investigation dragged on, the year ended without either of those two Minuteman 3 tests.
“The CRD anomaly investigation continues to progress,” Lt. Col. Lesa Toler of the 576th Flight Test Squadron said recently in response to written questions. “Currently, reworked CRD units are undergoing a qualification that includes vibration, shock and thermal testing to ensure the units are able to withstand the stresses of a launch environment.”
Plans call for the flight-qualified CRDs to be delivered to Vandenberg in time to be ready for an April 2 mission, she added.
The base typically conducts a couple of flight tests each year to gather data on reliability and accuracy of the system. CRDs are Vandenberg-unique parts installed for the flight tests, so this problem isn't interfering with the 450 weapons on alert in and around Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, officials said previously.
Once the problem was spotted, the Air Force launched an “anomaly investigation team.” That investigation is a collaborative effort of the ICBM Systems Program Office at Hill AFB, Utah, 30 Space Wing safety personnel at Vandenberg; ICBM program engineers, engineers from the CRD manufacturer, Air Force Space Command Headquarters, 595th Space Group and the 576th Flight Test Squadron.
“The investigation team has examined the CRD through exhaustive engineering analysis, destructive physical analysis, and vibration and shock testing,” Toler said. “Any findings are relayed to the investigation team for discussion and consensus on the correct conclusions and way forward.”
Getting to the root of the problem wasn't simple since the faulty part that sparked the investigation was destroyed during re-entry as part of the normal flight process.
“Because the original CRDs that flew on GT 193GM cannot be recovered, it is impossible to identify exactly what caused the indications received,” Toler said. “However, through exhaustive research and analysis, the investigation team has identified a number of corrective actions to maximize the capability of the CRD to withstand the launch environments.”
These fixes - which officials didn't specify - are being tested and will allow the weapon system to return to flight for the previously planned 2008 launch schedule, she added.
Officials couldn't say how much the delay and investigation have cost.
January 6, 2008