AFSPC-11 Launch a Team Effort by SMC, Its Mission Partners

  • Published
  • By Alicia Garges
  • SMC Public Affairs

The recent successful launch of the AFSPC-11 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, was a team effort directly involving personnel from the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Systems Enterprise (LE), Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM), and Advanced Systems and Development (AD) directorates. SMC’s Range and Network Division also supported this launch through its Launch and Test Range System and the Air Force Satellite Control Network modernization and sustainment efforts. SMC’s Contracting Directorate was involved in awarding contracts for launch services and the payload. Additionally, the Aerospace Corporation and the 45th Space Wing were instrumental in the success of this mission.

The mission consisted of the Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM (CBAS) and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) Augmented Geosynchronous Laboratory Experiment (EAGLE) payloads, which were launched aboard an Atlas V from CCAFS’ Space Launch Complex-41.

Launch services for this mission were acquired by SMC’s LE Directorate as part of a block buy of 36 rocket cores from United Launch Alliance (ULA) in 2013. ULA provided launch vehicle production, mission integration and launch operations for AFSPC-11 under the contract.

LE’s job didn’t end with acquiring launch services for the mission. Personnel from LE’s Generation and Operations Division (LEG) provided Atlas V mission assurance and ground oversight from production through launch.

“Mission assurance starts well before the launch with visits to parts suppliers and monitoring all stages of a rocket’s build, “said Lt. Col. Jim Horne, Atlas V Launch Vehicle Systems Branch materiel leader and Atlas V chief engineer.

“The team looks at all parts that go into a rocket,” said Lt. Gregory Lerch, Atlas Booster engineer, “every bolt, washer and nut to final assembly.”

Approximately one and half weeks before launch, the LEG team is at the launch site inspecting the launch vehicle and ensuring all engineering work is closed.  During vehicle roll out and on launch day, SMC personnel are on console monitoring the launch vehicle for any anomalies.

“At T-4 minutes, the team is polled and the mission director, who is from the LE Directorate and represents the SMC commander, gives the final permission to launch,” Horne said.

After the launch, the team reviews “all launch data from countdown and through the end of flight,” said. Lt. Cameron Davis, Atlas Avionics engineer. All data collected is analyzed before the next launch as part of the ongoing Atlas V mission assurance process.

Davis said that the SMC team works very closely with its mission partners including ULA, the Aerospace Corporation and the local launch squadron.

“What’s different about government launches is there is no insurance on the payload,” Horne said. “Mission assurance is DoD’s and the taxpayer’s insurance policy for mission success.”

“Mission assurance means all capabilities needed by the warfighter get on orbit and get there on time,” said Lerch.

AFSPC-11 was the 77th Atlas V launch and the eighth in the 551 launch configuration, which included a 5-meter payload fairing, five strap on solid rocket boosters and a single upper stage engine. First used in 2006, this vehicle configuration successfully launched the New Horizons satellite, Juno satellite and five MUOS missions for the Navy.

The mission’s forward payload consisted of the CBAS satellite, which is managed by SMC’s MILSATCOM Directorate.

“The CBAS Satellite is a military satellite communications spacecraft destined for geosynchronous orbit to provide communications relay capabilities to support our senior leaders and combatant commanders.  The mission of CBAS is to augment existing military satellite communications capabilities and broadcast military data continuously through a space-based, satellite communications relay links,” said Tom Becht, MILSATCOM Executive Director.

The aft payload on the mission was EAGLE. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico had lead for EAGLE; however, several key team members on the project were from SMC’s AD Directorate and the Space Test Program Office, both located at Kirtland Air Force Base.

 “The EAGLE flight experiment will demonstrate a maneuverable space vehicle design which can accommodate six or more hosted or deployable spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit, which can be cost effectively replicated for multiple spacecraft missions,” said AFRL in a prelaunch news release.

Experiments hosted on the EAGLE will detect, identify and analyze system threats will play a key role through exercises and experiments in the Air Force’s continued training and development of space professionals.

According to Capt. James Dodgen, SMC AD Directorate, the Space Test Program sponsored several experiments and AD performed operations, test and evaluation for the mission. 

The Space Test Program continues to monitor the health of the spacecraft, he said.