Minuteman Guidance System


Display Status:

This object is on display in the Space Race exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Collection Item Summary:

The Minuteman III is a solid-fueled, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which the U.S. Air Force first deployed in the 1960s. The guidance system, contained in a ring between the upper stage and the re-entry vehicle, was a key to the Minuteman's success as a weapon. Signals from this system controlled the direction, cut-off of thrust, and the separation of the stages, to direct the three warheads to their targets.

The Minuteman used an inertial guidance system, which relied completely on internal measurements of acceleration. By combining acceleration data with knowledge of the Earth's gravitational field, and of the missile's exact position at launch, the Minuteman was able to achieve remarkable accuracy. An onboard digital computer, built of early production integrated circuits, stored data and performed the necessary calculations. It also allowed the missile to be retargeted quickly prior to launch.

Transferred by the U.S. Air Force to the Museum in 1977.

Collection Item Long Description:

Data Source

National Air and Space Museum

Restrictions & Rights

Do not reproduce without permission from the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Credit Line

Transferred from the United States Air Force.


Ring: metal, probably aluminum. Interior structures: various metals, including beryllium. Electrical components and wire.


3-D: 48.3 x 132.1cm (19 x 52 in.)

Country of Origin

United States of America



Inventory Number


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