Special Report

This Is How a Ballistic Missile Works

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1. Boost phase

The boost phase is the first of the three main launch phases of an intercontinental ballistic missile. ICBMs use one or more rockets to reach their intended height. This phase typically lasts between two and five minutes. Different types of ICBMs may use solid or liquid fuel.

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2. Additional boosts

Some ICBMs use multiple thrusters throughout the boost phase. For instance, the Minuteman III rocket has three rocket stages that propel the ICBM to its maximum altitude.

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3. Midcourse phase

The second phase of an ICBM’s flight is known as the midcourse phase. This is the point in which the missile reaches outer space, reaching not only its greatest heights, but its highest speeds – potentially up to 17,000 mph.

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4. Star shot

During the midcourse phase, some ICBMs use stars to orient themselves. This method, known as a star shot, allows the ICBM to position itself towards its target upon reentry.

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5. Terminal phase

The third and final phase of an ICBM’s flight is known as the terminal phase. The missile begins its reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, headed to its target.

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