Green River Launch Complex

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Athena launch from one of the 3 launch pads at the complex, which was also known as:
Green River Test Site[1]
Green River Test Complex
Green River Missile Launching Site[2]
Green River Launch Complex

The Utah Launch Complex was a Cold War military subinstallation of White Sands Missile Range for USAF and US Army rocket launches. In addition to firing Pershing missiles, the complex launched Athena RTV missiles with subscale (test) warheads of the Advanced Ballistic Re-entry System to reentry speeds and impact at the New Mexico range. From 1964 to 1975 there were 244 Green River launches, including 141 Athena launches[3] and a Pershing to 281 kilometers altitude.[4] "Utah State Route 19 runs through the Green River Launch Complex, which is south of the town and eponym of Green River."[4]


Originally 3,450 acres (1,400 ha),[1] the installation had several separated areas:

Cantonment area
The post area had the entrance, headquarters and other offices, a fire station, telephone exchange, housing, and maintenance facilities.[5] Prefabricated buildings (7) were for "supply, a telephone exchange, and engineer and transportation use", and "59 trailers [were] used as bachelor officers' quarters, offices, a mess hall, a laundry, and a latrine"[2] ("city of trailers").[3]
Athena storage area
"Adjacent to the cantonment area [were] storage facilities for the Athena missile rocket motors"[2] (e.g., Thiokol XM-33 E8 Castor (rocket stage) augmented by 2 Thiokol XM-19 EL Recruit for the 1st stage.)[2] Athena support at the Army's Green River installation's was the responsibility of the Ogden Air Materiel Area (OOAMA) at Hill Air Force Base, where ammunition igloos stored Athena rocket motors (OOAMA calibration specialists deployed to the Green River site.)[6]
Athena Launch Complex[7]
Facilities "approximately five miles from the entrance of the site" included a blockhouse and 3 concrete launching pad each with a rail-movable temperature-controlled steel building:[7]
Safety zone
A "fall-back" area extended downrange as a 12,000-acre (4,900 ha) safety zone[2] for impact when an Athena malfunctioned during early flight,[3] e.g., the 2nd Athena RTV fired (May 1963) "was destroyed shortly after launch."[10]
Geyer Site
The Pershing Launch Complex with positions 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 and 2-1, 2-2, 2-3 where vehicles (e.g., mobile launchers) were emplaced for firings.[11] The Pershing area also had a landfill.[1]
Green River Radar Complex
A government instrumentation site was "five miles to the southeast [with] radars, telemetry, optical systems, frequency monitoring", and other equipment[5] (an organization was the "radar and communications division")[12]--cf. "a separate instrumentation site on a mountain ridge[specify] near the northern border of the facility" for tracking.[7]
Range Communications Station Charlie 401[13]
Meteorology compound
[13] A 500 ft (150 m) meteorological tower was on the complex,[14] which had NASA's High Resolution Wind Measurement Program (HIREWIMP).[15]
Pistol range[1]
The complex had a firearms range (e.g., for military police proficiency).

Related off-post sites included the nearby civilian Atlantic Research Corporation Assembly Area at a 1940s/50s Union Carbide uranium/vanadium facility outside of the Army complex[2] where the company assembled Athenas as the prime contractor. Atlantic's "support operations and missile assembly area"[12] of ~25,000 sq ft (0.57 acres) included a "missile assembly building...payload assembly building, support operations building, balance building and storage area"[3] (a water tower was also in the fenced compound.)[2] The Athena Booster Drop Zone 1 (FUDS J08UT3006 in San Juan County) was a downrange "impact zone" for the Athena 1st-stage booster to nominally land after separation (32 residents in the zone were evacuated for 1/2 hour or less,[3] e.g., ranchers were given per diem.)[2] "The impact dispersion area lay about 45 miles southeast of Green River, between the Colorado River and the north edge of the Manti-LaSal National Forest [with ~5% in] Canyonlands National Park."[2] (The drop zone for Athena stage 2 was located in New Mexico.[3]) Green River complex personnel also oversaw operations at Utah's White Mesa radar complex and a Pershing launch site and safety area in southeast Utah[5]—the Black Mesa Missile Launching Range[2] had 34 firings May 26, 1965 – November 13, 1968, from 38°36′28″N 110°35′53″W / 38.6078°N 110.5980°W / 38.6078; -110.5980 on Gilson Butte[16] (operations relocated to Green River in 1971.)[17]


White Sands Proving Ground began off-range firing with a 1956 Rascal missile launched near Orogrande, New Mexico, to an impact zone on WSPG[7] (cf. a 1960s MGM-29 Sergeant launched from Datil, New Mexico).[18] In Texas, an AN/FPS-78 radar emplaced with the 195x AN/FPS-17 radar at the Laredo Missile Tracking Site for WSMR tests was used in the 1962 Cuban Missile Early Warning System (later used for Athena/ABRES.) Pershing missile launches began at the Atlantic Missile Range in 1960,[19] and in 1961 Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) began the Athena missile program "as part of the Advanced Ballistic Re-entry System [ABRES] program".[2] The 1961 Target Tracking Radar was used to create recordings of radar reception from Cape Canaveral warheads, "chunks of the booster rocket", and "nose cone decoys" during reentry for use as simulated "ghost" missile input during WSMR's Zeus "synthetic intercept" program:.[20] WSMR LC 38's Discrimination Radar and the 1961 Target Tracking Radar from the Nike-Zeus program were later used "as part of a re-entry signature studies program".[21]


Selected by Carlos Bustamante,[18] in September 1962 the Green River site was approved for "Athena subscale tests of ABRES"—land acquisition was initiated by the US Army Corps of Engineers' Sacramento District in late December.[22] "In 1963 the ABRES program became a national effort",[23] and by July 2, 1963,[24] 1,600 acres (650 ha) was granted by the Utah State Land Board—the Bureau of Land Management granted 11,098 acres (4,491 ha).[25] Support structures, utilities, and roads were built by Olson Construction Company during a $1,235,072 contract;[25] and facilities eventually totalled over $3 million.[2] Off-site, the 1963 Holloman AFB program for Athena/ABRES installed "two 3 megawatt dual frequency L-band and UHF radar systems" by Continental Electronics[26] (AFMDC's RAM Site at Rhodes Canyon and the "Stallion radar site located uprange" on WSMR were "used to obtain the crossrange aspect of re-entry data.")[27] A USAF tenant[which?] was assigned to Green River as part of AFSC's Air Force Ballistic Systems Division at Norton Air Force Base.[2] In California, the original "Atlas 576 SMS ICBM pad" with gantry[28] became the Vandenberg AFB ABRES complex in September 1964 to launch ICBMs for reentry vehicle (RV) testing (moved from the Eastern Test Range).[23] For the Green River site,


The 1st Athena launch was February 10, 1964, from Pad 2 which failed "and fell near Durango, Colo" (cf. the Pershing launched[where?] November 1964 that landed near Creede, Colorado[29]) and the 2nd firing in May "was destroyed shortly after launch."[10] On July 8, 1964, the 1st "successful Athena/ABRES test missile" from the site landed at WSMR[30] (at night for optical tracking of reentry).[14] A 1967 Pershing landed in Mexico, as did a 1970 Athena that landed[when?] in Durango (Operation Great Sand returned Mexico Cobalt 57 contamination—60 drums—to a WSMR site.)[31]

The support and maintenance contract for the cantonment area transferred from Dynalectron's Land-Air Division to Bendix Field Engineering Corporation on February 1, 1965.[2] In 1966, the series of test firings was "rescheduled to last through 1967"—the new contract extended Athena operations beyond the original 77 launches (contracted for $65 million) to have 36 additional launches for $14 million.[32] On May 13, 196x, from the Geyer Site, a Luftwaffe missile wing (German: Flugkörpergeschwader) launched the 300th Pershing.[33]


Following the Green River complex' last launches (Athena in 1971 & Pershing in 1975), Pershing launches moved to Fort Wingate, New Mexico.[34] For a time the Army leased several cantonment buildings to the city of Green River[1] (to which a Loki Dart missile was given[35] and is exhibited at the city park.)[36] A similar 1970s "Radar Discrimination Technology (RDT) program" was begun[where?] by the Lincoln Laboratory,[37] and the Green River complex was on caretaker status 1976-86[1] when the site became "inactive in 1979"[7]--"the base was officially deactivated in 1983".[1] A March 1983 site inventory was conducted by David G. Buchanan and John P. Johnson, assisted by Sgt. Maj. L. Sexton—the report identified 6,309 acres (2,553 ha) "of exclusive use" property and 11,872 acres (4,804 ha) "of co-use property."[7] The "Green River Test Site[specify] was placed on the federal agency hazardous waste compliance docket on June 27, 1997."[1] By 2003 when part of "the original 3,450 acres of land" was owned/leased by White Sands (some was also state school trustlands and BLM lands), the cantonment area was being considered for declaration as excess property.[1] By 2007, the Annual Intercollegiate Rocket Launch Competition was being held near Crystal Geyser on former Green River complex land,[38] where 37 buildings remained in February 2014,[39] such as the reinforced concrete blockhouse (Building 50207) for Athena Pads 1 & 2 (Buildings 50253 & 50291) which also remain.[7] A draft assessment for demolition of the site's buildings was completed in 2014.[39]

Current status[edit]

Part of the former launch site now houses the Green River Uranium Disposal Cell [1], and holds radioactive material from the nearby UMTRA Project in Moab and several other sites.[40]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stoddard, Patsy (November 25, 2003). "What does the Future hold for the Green River Test Site?". Emery County Progress. Retrieved July 19, 2014. excavation of soil and buried debris at the former Pershing landfill, at the Athena Launch Complex, and the former pistol range. Test pits will be excavated at two sites, the former fire training area and landfill/dump/disposal pit
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Brief Histories of Three Federal Military Installations in Utah: Kearns Army Air Base, Hurricane Mesa, and Green River Test Complex" (PDF). Utah Historical Quarterly. Utah State Historical Society. 34 (Number 2). Spring 1966. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 29, 2013. Retrieved September 12, 2013. More than 100 employees of the [Atlantic Research] Missile Systems Division... The blockhouse and launch pads...are located approximately five miles from the entrance of the site. ...cantonment and assembly areas...were located approximately two miles southeast of Green River. ... launch area...consists of a fall-back area, a blockhouse, three concrete launching pads, and various meteorological system component facilities. ...assembly and housing area...comprise 44 acres, the operations are contained in 3,546 acres, and the safety area is 12,000 acres.
  3. ^ a b c d e f author tbd (February 11, 1966). "Green River: Inter-State Rockets & Missiles" ( site). Playing with Fire Memoirs. Retrieved July 20, 2014. Three ATHENA vehicles are poised[when?] and ready for firing ... to date (February 11, 1966) good vehicle performance was obtained on 31 of the 37 launches. Under an accelerated program since June 1965 more than 23 flights were recorded. In each case the solid-propellant four-stage vehicle returned more radar and optical data than were ever obtained on any prior advanced systems test systems. Atlantic Research is prime contractor. ... Atlantic Research Green River field facility is a remote city [with] More than 100 employees of the Missile Systems Division divide their time between the cantonment area, a large city of trailers, and in the support operations and missile assembly area, (upper portion of the photo). The blockhouse and launch pads, (not shown in this picture), are located approximately 5 miles from the entrance of the site. U.S. Air Force Photo, DET. 2-1352 PGP - APCS (MATS), June 1964. ... Athena Assembly Area - Occupying approximately 25,000 sq. ft. Green River missile assembly complex includes missile assembly building (foreground), payload assembly building, support operations building, balance building and storage area. Components of ATHENA re-entry vehicle are shipped from Atlantic Research manufacturing facility in El Monte, Calif. and assembled and checked out here before being transported to launch site approximately five miles away. ... Site 1. Launch Area and Safety Jone: 15,490 Acres, All unpopulated. Road to Crystal Geyser may be closed for 30 minute periods during firing operations. If malfunction occurs at launch, ATHENA Rocket will be dropped into safety zone. Site 2. First stage or 'Booster' impact zone: 32 residents of area will be asked to leave their homes for period of 12 hours or less only on firing days. Owners have full and normal use of property at all other times. No major highways in this area will be closed at any time because of these tests.
  4. ^ a b "Green River". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c "Utah Launch Complex At Green River Essential To Firings" ( archive). Las Cruces Sun-News. February 25, 1973. Retrieved August 2, 2014.
  6. ^ Robert W. Bernick, "Missile Base Spurs Emery's Economy," Tribune, December 1, 1963. Also ibid., February 6, 1963; Leonard J. Arrington and George Jensen, The Defense Industry of Utah (Logan, Utah, 1965), 24 [as cited by the Utah Historical Quarterly]
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Buchanan, David G (July 1984). White Sands Missile Range and SubInstallation Utah Launch Complex, Green River, Utah (PDF) (Historic Properties Report). Retrieved July 25, 2014.[verification needed]
  8. ^ "Green River Pad 2". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  9. ^ "Green River Pad 3". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  10. ^ a b "Utah Missile Shot Delayed Again" ( image of news clipping). Salt Lake Tribune. June 23, 1964. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b "Spanish Valley Mortuary Obituaries". Archived from the original on 2014-08-10. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  13. ^ a b "Green River Test Annex - White Sands Missile Range - an album on Flickr". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  14. ^ a b Five hundred foot meteorological tower can be seen. At the present time Athena firings are scheduled at night. ... Athena Missile [launch] Friday, July 16, [1965] ... Tuesday...launch of another Athena...missile, number 15 in the series... test missile Monday night...number 16 in the series
  15. ^ "Green River Launch Complex 1969 :: Green River Launch Complex". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  16. ^ "Gilson Butte". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  17. ^ White Sands Missile Range, Fact Sheet, "Extended Range Sites in Utah and Idaho," pp. 1-2. (cited by Buchanan)
  18. ^ a b "Bustamante, Carlos, Mr". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Radar Spots The Big Ones At The Cape". Miami Beach Morning Journal. March 13, 1961. Retrieved April 12, 2014.
  21. ^ "White Sands Missile Range History". Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  22. ^ "A Brief History of White Sands Proving Ground 1941–1965" (PDF). New Mexico State University. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 28, 2014. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  23. ^ a b Nalty, Bernard C (March 1967). USAF Ballistic Missile Programs: 1964-1966 (Report). Retrieved August 2, 2014. investigate the characteristics of the optical and radar wakes left by reentry vehicles, the forces acting upon those vehicles., and penetration aids including chaff, decoys, and the ability of a reentry vehicle to maneuver. ... Vandenberg AFB... Large boosters, such as surplus Atlas missiles, hurled instrumented reentry vehicles from Vandenberg toward Kwajalein Atoll... The second ABRES site was Green River, Utah, from which four-stage solid propellant Athena rockets launched scale models of reentry vehicles down a range stretching to White Sands, N. M. The first dozen Athena launchings...were generally unsuccessful ... successes increased dramatically in the second half of calendar year 1965 and by the end of June 1966, about 30 of the 46 launchings had been judged successful.6
  24. ^ "titles tbd". Salt Lake Tribune. May 25, July 2, 1963. Check date values in: |date= (help) (2 article dates cited by Utah Historical Quarterly)
  25. ^ a b "titles tbd". Salt Lake Tribune. January 10, 11, February 16, 1963. Check date values in: |date= (help) (3 article dates cited by Utah Historical Quarterly)
  26. ^ "LTV Awarded $1.4 Million AF Contract" ( webpage). Grand Prairie Daily News. date tbd. Retrieved July 20, 2014. A $1.4 million contract has been awarded the LTV Electro- systems' subsidiary, Continental Electronics Mfg. Co. of Dallas, for engineering services and supplies to operate the maintain the Ram - Stallion radar systems at White Sands Missile Range. The contract, awarded by the Air Force Missile Development Center... Continental Electronics originally designed, developed and installed the two 3 megawatt dual frequency L-band and UHF radar systems for the Air Force during 1963. For the third consecutive year, Continental Electronics has been selected to operate, maintain and continue to develop the two multi - megawatt radar systems...of the Athena re-entry program... The radars have participated in over 150 missions and accumulated nearly 2,000 hours of operational time with only 6 minutes of mission — hold time attributed to the Continental Electronics systems. The new contract represents an expanded effort from previous years in that it calls for a nearly autonomous operation. Virtually all aspects of t h e program are being conducted from the Holloman office. The Ram — Stallion program is currently planned to continue through 1970 and Continental Electronics anticipates several extensive changes to the radar systems. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  27. ^ Smith, John Q.; Byrd, David A (c. 1991). Forty Years of Research and Development at Griffis Air Force Base: June 1951 – June 1991 (Report). Borky, Col. John M (Foreword). Rome Laboratory. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  28. ^ "Hidden Vandenberg: Photo of the Day - ABRES/AMROC". Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  29. ^ "Chronology: Cowboys to V-2s to the Space Shuttle to lasers". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  30. ^ "Part I. History of ABM Development". posted at Retrieved May 24, 2014. By June 1964, the WSMR was taking data on the first successful Athena test missile fired from Utah into WSMR
  31. ^ Edgington, R.H.; Temple University. History (2008). Lines in the Sand: An Environmental History of Cold War New Mexico. Temple University. p. 124. ISBN 9780549705925. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  32. ^ "Athena Research Pushed," Missiles and Rockets (September 2, 1963), 10-11; Arrington and Jensen, Defense Industry, 23-24; Rice, Chronology: OOAMA, 57; Tribune, August 18, 1963; Hal Knight, "Missile Tests Extended," Deseret News (Salt Lake City), February 10, 1966. [cited by Utah Historical Quarterly]
  33. ^ |quote=...conducted by troops of the Luftwaffe Flugkörpergeschwader (Missile Wing) One, was the first in an eight-round series; the German unit was due to launch a second missile later on May 13 and two more on May 28, and a further four weapons are scheduled to be fired by US Army troops in two pairs on June 11 and 25. The German Air Force's test firings were of standard Pershing 1a missiles but the remaining rounds, two to be fired by troops from batteries of the 3rd Battalion, 9th Field Artillery, at Fort Sill and two by 7th Army units from Germany, will be Improved Pershings.
  34. ^ |quote=Green River was built in 1961 [sic] to launch the Pershing truck-mounted missile and other armaments into the White Sands Missile Range; after complaints by those living in the flight path, the testing was shifted to Fort Wingate, Arizona.
  35. ^ "Green River Missile Launch Complex | Destination Green River". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  36. ^ "(NSR) The new "Area 51", Secret Squirrel pics... [Archive] - Teton Gravity Research Forums". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  37. ^ Philip A. Ingwersen and William Z. Lemnios (March 26, 2001). "Radars for Ballistic Missile Defense Research" (PDF). Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  38. ^ "Emery County Progress - It is rocket science, Green River is the site for university rocket launches - July 3, 2007". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  39. ^ a b "Emery County Progress - PUBLIC NOTICE OF AVAILABILITY February 2014 Draft Environmental Assessment Of FACILITY DEMOLITION, GREEN RIVER TEST SITE, UTAH - March 18, 2014". Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  40. ^ "Fact Sheet on Uranium Mill Tailings". US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Fact Sheets. 2006. Archived from the original on December 16, 2010. Retrieved February 9, 2017.

External links[edit]