RAD enhances efficiency for space launch missions

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

PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. – A new software program called “Range Application Deployment,” is enhancing situational awareness for space launch missions at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The system, which is accessible from any networked location in the United States, provides launch control officers with several communication channels, the launch countdown clock and up to 25 video feeds.

Senior leaders at then Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station began developing a virtual computing environment in 2018 to allow the Capabilities Development Division to work innovation projects geared towards modernizing legacy range systems, said Sonia Holmquist, Space Launch Delta 45 Capabilities Development Division chief.

“We established a lab environment with the information technology architecture and internet protocol network to enable this work and integrated various products through small, quick projects that would provide a virtualized operator workspace, enabling operators to access all the tools and mission information needed from one console, increasing flexibility to access tools from various locations,” Holmquist said.

In November 2020, the Capabilities Development Division researched what it would take to transition the lab environment into an operational capacity, Holmquist said. The software received operational acceptance approval May 9 and was used to support Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission to the International Space Station May 19.

Mike Loftis, SLD 45 Capabilities Development Division technology planning analyst has worked to bring RAD online since January 2021.

“I lead much of the effort on the infrastructure side, data center, virtualization, coordinating contract support for maintenance, sustainment and development efforts for the system,” Loftis said.  “RAD is IT infrastructure and software applications that help us quickly move new capabilities from development to production or operation.”

The software is also adaptable in a variety of ways to support launch operations, Loftis added.

“The underlying virtual infrastructure allows us to allocate resources and adapt the system to support whatever applications that need to come onto the system,” Loftis said. “Currently, launch operators have access to mission video streams, mission voice communications and range timing. They have access to a unified graphical display that they can configure to their needs so they’re not stuck using hardware based, legacy systems.”

The Eastern Range at CCSFS supports dozens of launches each year. As of June 7, the Eastern Range has supported 21 launches, including the Crew-4 launch April 27. Innovations such as RAD, enhance mission capability.

“With the increasing launch tempo, RAD will enable launch crews at 1st ROPS the flexibility to operate from virtually anywhere,” said U.S. Space Force Maj. Jonathan Szul, 1st Range Operations Squadron director of operations. “With RAD's current capabilities, operators can utilize internal communication nets as well as have range timing and video feeds.”

This is vital to mission success, Szul said.

“This situational awareness tool integrates multiple operator functions into one convenient tool,” Szul said. “A particular benefit of the virtual communication nets is the ability to reconfigure nets on-the-fly. The legacy ORION communication panel must be manually reconfigured and can only be done by authorized contractors. However, with RAD, an operator can select and deselect communication nets with a click of the mouse. This gives the flexibility of adding back-up nets in the event of communication outages and increases overall situational awareness on nets an operator would not have otherwise been able to monitor due to physical limitations of the ORION communication panels.”

U.S. Space Force Capt. Mark Conque, 1st ROPS assistant director of operations, shared his appreciation for the RAD system.

“It modernizes our day of launch interfaces, taking us from an antiquated ORION panel that was developed in the 60s or 70s and virtualizes it to a digital communication panel,” he said. “With RAD, I am not limited. I can access whatever I need.”

When Conque serves as a range operations commander, he is responsible for ensuring public safety and he said that the RAD system helps his team do just that.

“If we don’t know what’s going on than we can’t without a doubt say the range is clear for launch,” Conque said. “RAD provides us with the heightened awareness we need and helps us ensure public safety. The video feed application allows me to see things and configure things the way I want to. I can alternate between feeds as I see fit or we can divide the feeds among each launch operator. All of this enhances situational awareness.”

It also shortens range reconfiguration time and enhances launch on demand for Space Launch Delta 45.

“With RAD, we could support two launches within 24 hours or 40 minutes,” Conque said. “We could provide simultaneous support to two different launch customers because we have the enhanced situational awareness to do that. This will allow us to support the mission, even more launch providers in the future and ensure public safety. ”