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Cape Squadron helps maintain the warfighter's eye in the sky

Members of the 45th Launch Support Squadron, along with the 45th Range Management Squadron's GPS team, pause in front of the GPS IIR-20 satellite atop its Detla II booster prior to its launch March 24. (Lockheed Martin photo/Bruce Johnson)

Members of the 45th Launch Support Squadron, along with the 45th Range Management Squadron's GPS team, pause in front of the GPS IIR-20 satellite atop its Detla II booster prior to its launch March 24. (Lockheed Martin photo/Bruce Johnson)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- For the troops on the ground in hot zones all around the world, there are many items they rely on that are vital in their day-to-day operations: their weapons, their wingmen, their body armor. But what about their space assets?

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the 45th Launch Support Squadron acts as the flight line for these new space assets headed to orbit. "We are the last ones to touch the spacecraft before it is sent to the pad and turned over to one of the launch squadrons to be placed into the proper orbit," said Mission Support Flight Commander Maj. Robert Russell. "During that time the spacecraft undergo vigorous testing under the watchful eyes of our mission assurance personnel to ensure all systems are functioning one final time prior to spacecraft encapsulation and mate to the booster."

At Vandenberg AFB, Calif., the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, is the control tower to the Squadron's flightline. The JSpOC is a busy mix of U.S. servicemembers from the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines; foreign servicemembers; and a select group of civilian counterparts, who provide a focal point for the operational employment of worldwide joint space forces. These are the people who enable the commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space to integrate space power into global military operations.

"We provide operational command and control for the space forces that are assigned to the Joint Functional Component Command for Space in (U.S. Strategic Command)," said Col. Richard Boltz, the JSpOC director. "We provide the overall guidance, direction and execution of the space mission through the Joint Space Operations Center."
And while many of those requests come from STRATCOM, many actually come directly from commanders in the field.

"I work with the different geographic commanders and their space liaisons and make sure that they receive whatever they need in regards to space," said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Drayer, a space operations duty officer. "We will take what we do and tinker it to fit the need that the commander may have for any particular mission. Whether it's GPS or communications satellites, instead of just making sure it's up and running, we try to maximize the potential of those assets."

"The 45th LCSS played a major role in providing two new space assets to the field this year, starting with GPS IIR-20 in March and the second wideband global SATCOM (WGS) mission in April." said Operations Officer Lt. Col. Greg Wood. The squadron is poised to prepare the WGS-3 and the final GPS IIR missions for launch this summer with the first of the GPS IIF spacecraft launching this winter.

"Our mission assurance role for each mission actually begins a few years prior to launch," said Major Russell. Squadron mission assurance personnel work closely with the spacecraft program offices to review all spacecraft processing procedures, attend program management reviews, and become intimately familiar with the spacecraft subsystems. In some cases with new spacecraft that have not launched before, the squadron will simulate processing operations onsite with a full size mock up, or trailblazer, to iron out any unforeseen problems in the spacecraft processing flow. The squadron conducted trailblazer operations for the Space Based Infrared System spacecraft two years ago and plans to conduct similar operations for GPS IIF beginning next week.

The squadron is also responsible for maintaining 128 facilities valued at $800 million. These facilities are used for storing ordnance required for launch and storing and processing the spacecraft, along with its extensive ground support equipment required to prepare it for launch. Approximately $30 million in infrastructure upgrades has been invested to keep these critical facilities state of the art for current and future spacecraft customers.

One of the most common requests to the JSpOC has to do with GPS. Most people think they can simply turn on their GPS unit and everything will be fine. However, GPS systems are sensitive to things like the number of GPS satellites in view. And, while many people wouldn't notice or could simply wait out a problem, the military GPS units are much more relied on and need to be extremely accurate when called upon.

The 45th LCSS is proud of the role it plays in getting these national gems into orbit for our warfighters. "If these assets don't work the first time, we can't send a repair crew up to fix them," said Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Erik Bowman. "Any problems have to be discovered on the ground prior to launch, and our mission assurance personnel working in our world class processing facilities are the last line of defense to ensure these problems do not happen."

(Additional information provided by Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney, 45th SW Public Affairs.)