Airmen claim USSF maintainer awards: ‘We are the insurance for the Space Force’

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
  • Space Launch Delta 45 Public Affairs

PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. – Three Airmen at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, responsible for supporting missions valued at more than $5 billion, were selected as the top maintainers in the U.S. Space Force for 2020.  

The trio, all from the 5th Space Launch Squadron, were recognized as Space Operations Command Space Launch Maintainers of the Year (MOY), the highest honor a maintainer can receive in the USSF.  

The 5th SLS also swept every award category in the competition.

“It is an honor and frankly, unexpected to be recognized at this level,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Keith Carpenter, the Space Launch Delta 45 Inspector General superintendent, who in 2020, was a 5th SLS spacecraft flight chief. He won the MOY award in the senior noncommissioned officer category.

In 2020, the 5th SLS provided mission assurance for 31 space launches, including the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch on May 20, which was the first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from the United States in nearly a decade.

“Mission assurance is something that may not resonate with the average person, but what we do and the service we provide is critical,” Carpenter said.

Space launch mission assurance is an integrated engineering-level assessment of analysis, production, verification, validation, operation, maintenance, and problem resolution processes.

The objective of the mission assurance process is to identify and mitigate design, production, test and operational deficiencies that could impact mission success, Carpenter added.

“Satellites cost billions of dollars and can take between 10 and 15 years to build,” Carpenter said. “The U.S. Space Force does not have an insurance policy on those satellites. We are the Space Force’s insurance policy. If something doesn’t go right, we waste a decade and possibly billions of dollars. Our job is to ensure processes and procedures are performed properly and double checked.”

One of the Airmen performing these checks is Tech. Sgt. Christopher French, 5th SLS mission assurance instructor and the winner of the MOY award in the noncommissioned officer category. According to his award nomination, French halted an unsafe lifting operation when he discovered a crane was improperly rigged to a rocket booster.

“I saw the rocket being lifted up away from its integration cart about 6 inches, it was supposed to be flat and not moving at all,” he said. “As soon as I noticed that, I yelled, ‘Stop!’ We assessed the situation and the rocket was lowered back down and reconnected to its integration cart. It could have fallen, which could have significantly damaged the rocket.”

French also inspected the booster that powered the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch, as well as dozens of others.

He said he is humbled to be recognized as one of the best in the Space Force.

“I don’t often win awards or anything,” French said. “Being recognized for something at the Space Force level is an incredible feeling.”

He said he, along with the Airmen and Guardians of the 5th SLS, are dedicated to the mission.

“We are kind of like kids playing with Legos, we are there to make sure everything is good to go, from the engines, to the landing legs to everything in-between,” French said. “We are part of national security space missions and essential to getting satellites into orbit. We don’t take that for granted. Whether we are supporting GPS or missile warning capabilities, it is incredible to be a part of the mission here.”

Master Sgt. Travis Ferguson, SPOC Deputy Commanding General Operations Directorate manager of launch operations, said it is impressive for the 5th SLS to sweep the awards and he hopes the American people realize just how professional members of the unit are.

“I was not expecting that, for one unit to take all the awards,” he said. “But, the Airmen and Guardians at Cape Canaveral are professional and outstanding at their jobs. They also have great leadership and manage launch operations, site processing and evaluations with excellence. They perform at a high level and the American people should know that.”

The 2020 SPOC Space Launch Maintainers of the Year are:

Company Grade Officer Category

Capt. Dana Gauci, 5th SLS spacecraft responsible engineer

Senior Noncommissioned Officer Category

Master Sgt. Keith Carpenter, Space Launch Delta 45 Inspector General superintendent and former 5th SLS spacecraft flight chief.

Noncommissioned Officer Category

Tech. Sgt. Christopher French, 5th SLS mission assurance instructor