Local SMC "Birdwatchers" flock to see Atlas V/GPS IIF-10 soar
By James Spellman, Jr., Space and Missile Systems Center Public Affairs
/ Published July 15, 2015
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. -- Have you ever wondered what happens to a rocket and upper stage components after a launch? How does the Air Force choose to launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida or Vandenberg Air Force Base in California?
These and other questions were on the minds of more than 150 Space and Missile Systems Center "birdwatchers" who gathered in the Gordon Conference Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base to watch a "SMC Launch Presents" this morning of one of their own projects.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V in the "401" vehicle configuration of a four-meter-wide payload fairing, zero solid rocket boosters and a single engine upper stage successfully carried a GPS IIF-10 satellite into orbit for the Global Positioning System navigation network.
The on-time performance of the 55th flight for ULA's Atlas V -- the result of the Air Force's competition to develop next-generation Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles -- occurred at 11:36 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The three-hour time zone difference between the East and West Coasts allowed SMC team members in California, where the Boeing-built GPS satellite was acquired and tested, an early morning opportunity to see and hear the launch via three large projection screens with mission experts discussing the mission.
"Where else are you going to see a launch up close and personal from less than 30 feet away?" quipped Donald Traud, chief of media and community relations for SMC Public Affairs.
Capt. Nick Laliberte, Government Mission Integration Manager from SMC's Launch Systems Directorate and R. Bruce Lagatree, GPS System Engineering and Integration Program principal systems engineer for Leidos, previously known as Science Applications International Corporation, guided the attentive audience through what happens during a satellite launch. The "Launch and Learn" question and answer session explained what occurs during the countdown and in the time between the launch and satellite separation.
"We don't celebrate a launch until after the satellite is safely in its required orbit," Laliberte said. We do so much in the way of mission assurance, once the bird is safely in orbit, it's a good reflection on how much work goes into one of these launches."
According to Laliberte, SMC's Launch Systems Directorate started hosting these "SMC Launch Presents" events last year.
"This morning's GPS event was the seventh one we have hosted. The goal is to get the people of SMC out of the office to see a live broadcast of these launches," Laliberte explained. "So many people don't get to see the end result of the hard work they do on a day to day basis and these events hope to inspire the people of SMC to get a sense of how their job fits into the big picture. We hope to grow the audience more and more as we continue to offer these events for everyone at SMC as a learning experience and also as a benefit of their hard work."
With the recent back-to-back failures of commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station, the thought of, "space launch is difficult" was very clearly on the minds of many.
"Anyone who has read the news over the past month knows that this is a tough business and no one mission is ever routine," Laliberte said. "We do the very best into making sure everything we have in our power is working properly. I get excited when we get inside of T-30 minutes because it's a tribute to everyone in this room for the amount of work they put into it to see mission success!"
"No matter how many times you see these things, the tension level starts to go up the closer you get to the T-30 seconds count," Lagatree pointed out.
"These satellites are very much like our children. It's hard to maintain my personal excitement and involvement with each of these as they become ready for launch," Lagatree said. "It is just like first day of school, just like going for the Eagle in scouting. It's like a real important transition to full realization."
Lagatree shared with the audience that he started watching space missions when he was 12 years old.
"That was 55 years ago and I have always been extremely excited with the countdown and it's almost like they conspired to make it that way with reducing the count and so you have ignition and the thing lifts off you can't help but get excited. I dare anyone to say that they don't get some excitement and some involvement and personal feeling of pride in what our company and what our country and what our rate of human species is able to achieve."
Some statistics about today's mission, courtesy of SpaceflightNow.com, show how much has been accomplished in the past 20 years since GPS first achieved Full Operational Capability.
This will be:
· The 637th launch for the Atlas program since 1957
· The 203rd use of Centaur by an Atlas rocket
· The 55th launch of an Atlas V since 2002
· The 21st Air Force mission for an Atlas V
· The 84th Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle flight
· The 27th Atlas V to fly in the 401 configuration
· The 70th GPS satellite to launch
· The 49th Boeing-built GPS satellite
· The 10th GPS Block IIF satellite
· The 4th GPS IIF on an Atlas V
· The 4th Atlas V launch of 2015
"Today's successful launch is a testament to the outstanding team work of government and industry partners' commitment to mission success. The GPS IIF satellites are critical for GPS constellation global service for years to come," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space. "Thanks to the men and women of SMC, the 45th, 50th, 310th Space Wings, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, The Aerospace Corporation, the GPS IIF and the Atlas V launch teams, we are sustaining and modernizing the world's greatest space-based, precise positioning, navigation and timing service,"
The GPS IIF satellites increase GPS signal capabilities, increase user accuracy with more accurate space atomic clocks and reduces overall constellation risk than previous GPS satellites. Additionally, a new operational third civil signal (L5) benefits commercial aviation and safety-of-life applications.
Operated by U.S. Air Force Space Command, the GPS constellation provides worldwide positioning and navigation support seven days a week, 24-hours a day. 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the GPS constellation of satellites achieving Full Operational Capability.
Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, Calif., is the U.S. Air Force's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.