45th WS enhances launch weather ops

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zoe Thacker
  • 45th Space Wing Public Affairs

Throughout the years, the way weather forecasters study, document and keep watch over the weather, especially in the space industry, has drastically changed. With over five decades of space exploration under our belts, the 45th Space Wing has also changed with the times; in fact, the 45th Weather Squadron has geared up to make many changes in order to enhance their weather operations.


"It is becoming a more regular occurrence that our launch weather team must be able to support multiple, concurrent operations,” said Capt. Zachary Daniels, Joint METOC Officer for the 45th WS. “With the number of space launches and supported mission partners growing every year, we are continually looking for efficiencies in our operations to maintain the quality of weather support that our government and commercial partners have come to expect.”


Each enhancement in its own right was created in an effort to save time, optimize operations and expand and improve communication between the Airmen in the weather squadron, the Eastern Range and the launch customer.


As the launch pace on the Eastern Range continues to increase, so does the need for an optimal area for the forecasters and launch weather officers (LWO) to work on the day of, and days leading up to, a rocket launch. This increased pace is where the introduction of a new plan to optimize the weather operations floor comes into play; enabling improved and expanded communication and video capabilities to permit more LWO positions on the operations floor.


Related future projects to improve the flexibility of weather operations include a single-user interface and remote data access that will allow weather personnel to be able to interface with any given Eastern Range weather system from any desired location.


In addition to a more flexible work area, members of the weather squadron were able to create a new, more agile launch weather team construct that integrates an optional enlisted member position and a senior LWO team member. This new construct allows the team to use as many or as few positions based on operational requirements and expected weather conditions; overall increasing the team’s flexibility by 20%.


“It is always our goal to improve how we do business and provide the highest quality of weather data to the highest quantity of mission partners in the shortest amount of time,” said Daniels. “By enhancing our tools and processes, we can increase the flexibility of our team to more effectively provide weather information to multiple mission partners simultaneously and enable them take advantage of operational opportunity in challenging weather environments.”


Perhaps one of the most important components of a forecaster’s job on launch day is to ensure there are no violations to the lighting launch commit criteria, so a rocket is able to launch safely and successfully. The team in the 45th WS has made strides in creating a program to streamline this process as well.


Working harmoniously with the Combat Development Division, the team is working on a program that can integrate Weather Squadron radar data, Mesoscale Eastern Range Lightning Information Network (MERLIN) lightning data and rocket trajectory in order to provide a 3D lighting launch commit criteria evaluation tool. Automation will be built into the system to create notifications for the LWO when a part of the criteria has been violated, so as to ensure a rocket does not launch in unfavorable weather conditions. This automation tool will complement, but not replace, the final weather evaluation by the LWO.


“Innovation is not an end-state and does not happen in a vacuum,” said Daniels. “It is only through the continual efforts of our diverse team within the 45th Weather Squadron and our innovation partners across the Wing that we are able to continue to advance our capabilities and Set the Pace for Space.”


Innovations like these, and the many others that are being worked within the 45th WS and other units across the installation, are critical to the 45th Space Wing’s mission to provide assured access to space to the warfighter and the Nation. The hard work, dedication and inspired minds of the Airmen and Guardians on the Eastern Range help ensure we remain the World’s Premier Gateway to Space.