Aerospace Evaluates Options for Retired ICBM Booster Systems

The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS) released a new policy paper today, Options for Retired Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Booster Systems Beyond Commercial Applications.

The paper discusses the debate over the use of excess ICBM booster systems; presents post-retirement options that would be advantageous to the U.S. government or the overall space industry; and addresses consequences to current policy. 

Author Jeffrey C. Boulware, senior project engineer for Aerospace’s National Systems Group, explains that post-retirement uses of ICBMs are controlled by law in Title 51, Section 50134, of U.S. Code. “The law prohibits the transfer of ICBM systems to private industry for commercial space launch purposes,” said Boulware. “Prior to its establishment these systems had been transferred to the commercial space launch industry, often before retirement from military service.”

The law also contains conditions that allow excess ICBMs to be retained for government use.

“Advocates for change would like to create a low-cost launch service provider, whereas opponents to changing the policy argue this would unbalance the commercial launch market and stifle innovation from emerging companies,” said Boulware. “Public debate has centered around this issue, neglecting consideration of other applications for ICBM systems after they are retired.”

Opportunities that could emerge as a result of expanding the current policy include industry internal research and development; academic research; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

Boulware adds that, “The policy paper is not intended to make an argument for or against any policy changes, but merely to present alternative applications that could inform the options for change.”

Currently, the U.S. Air Force is modernizing its ICBM fleet to the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) system, which will replace its aging three-stage Minuteman III (MMIII) vehicle. With the deployment of GBSD, several hundred of the MMIII’s booster systems will be phased out of military service beginning in the late 2020s.

“The long term, enterprise plan for future retired ICBM assets must balance the needs of launch service providers, payload operators and other potential users,” said Jamie Morin, vice president and executive director for CSPS. “By identifying some alternative uses for these boosters, we are looking to begin a discussion about how to balance national security, cost to the government, economic interests and other considerations.”

To learn more, download the Options for Retired ICBM Booster Systems Beyond Commercial Applications policy paper at

About the Center for Space Policy and Strategy

The Center for Space Policy and Strategy is dedicated to shaping the future by providing nonpartisan research and strategic analysis to decisionmakers. The Center is part of The Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit organization that advises the government on complex space enterprise and systems engineering problems.

About The Aerospace Corporation

The Aerospace Corporation is a national nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center and has more than 4,600 employees. With major locations in Chantilly, Virginia; El Segundo, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Colorado Springs, Colorado, Aerospace addresses complex problems across the space enterprise and other areas of national and international significance through agility, innovation, and objective technical leadership. For more information, visit Follow us on X: @AerospaceCorp.


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