45th Space Wing carries out successful launch while Irma looms off coast

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Less than one year after Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, took a hit from Hurricane Matthew, the Sharks once again found themselves in a similar situation with one major twist. 

This time as Hurricane Irma barred down on the Florida coast Sept. 7, the 45th Space Wing had a launch to perform. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle was due for its first flight with the Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

With the largest Atlantic hurricane recorded in history looming over the Florida peninsula, the 45th Space Wing made the decision to go forward with the launch while making preparations for Irma.

Just minutes into the open launch window, the Falcon 9 took off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A and had a successful flight and landing all in the space of ten minutes.

“This phenomenal team makes the impossible possible,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th SW commander. “We are now preparing to evacuate just one day after we had our 15th launch this year when we got SpaceX’s Falcon 9 with the X-37B off the pad successfully on our first attempt.”

“We have now launched one-quarter of the space lift missions in the entire world,” he continued. “But now it is time for us to change our focus to preparing for Hurricane Irma.”

When Patrick AFB evacuated last year due to Hurricane Matthew, the response went so well that residents were able to move back on base just two days after the storm. The range mission was restored shortly after that.

“We went through Hurricane Matthew last year with phenomenal team support,” Monteith said. “We had no injuries. We minimized our damage. We’re going to do the same thing this year.”

Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station both began full evacuations the morning of Sept. 8 for Irma, less than 24 hours after their successful launch. The bases will be cleared by noon Sept. 9.

Various hurricane ride-out teams will remain in-place around the region to assist with reconnaissance following the storm and to keep the installation secure.

“Team Patrick-Cape is absolutely ready for the storm,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kimberly Vinson, 45th SW command chief. “Everyone is trained and our gear is ready to go.”

The 45th SW plans on keeping open lines of communication throughout the storm and its recovery. Base leadership stressed the importance of staying up-to-date on the most current information.

“We just encourage each of you, if you are not part of the mission essential teams, to please stay safe, follow all evacuation orders, and please stay up to date,” Vinson said.

There are numerous routes to obtain the latest information on Hurricane Irma’s impacts to Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral AFS. Sign up for rapid notifications by texting “follow 45SWAlert” to 40404. Follow the 45th SW on Facebook at www.facebook.com/45thSpaceWing. Additional resources can be located at http://www.patrick.af.mil/Units/Hurricane-Information.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of each and every one of you for your professionalism as we get through this latest event,” Monteith said as he addressed members of Team Patrick-Cape. “We are the world’s premier gateway to space and it’s not because we have cool rockets, it’s not because we have cool trucks. It’s because of each and every one of you doing your job, your professionalism, your expertise. We will get through this and we will demonstrate to the world why we are the best. So thank you. Be safe.”