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Test rocket carrying component for future nuclear armed ICBM explodes after takeoff

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

A test rocket carrying a component for a future US nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile blew up 11 seconds after takeoff Wednesday night from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, according to a statement from the base.

An investigation is underway and the debris only affected the immediate launch pad area.

This was the first test of the Mk21A Reentry Vehicle (RV) the part of the weapon that would hold a nuclear warhead if the system was operational. There was no nuclear element or armed component to this test.

The Mk21A is planned to be the reentry vehicle for the future LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missiles, a new ground-based nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile planned to replace the current Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile as a key element of the US nuclear deterrent capability.

The explosion comes a week after the latest test of a US hypersonic weapon failed after an “anomaly” occurred during the first test of the full system.

The test, carried out June 30 at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii, was supposed to launch the Common Hypersonic Glide Body atop a two-stage missile booster. The booster is designed to launch the system and accelerate it to hypersonic speeds in excess of Mach 5, at which point the glide body detaches and uses its speed to reach the target. It was the first time the entire system was tested, called an All Up Round test.

The anomaly prevented the Defense Department from completing the entire test, but the Pentagon said it was not a complete failure.

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