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Wing's work continues after successful launch

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- While many were celebrating the successful launch of the Delta II as it streaked across the Atlantic Ocean, others who were gathered in the 45th Launch Support Squadron headquarters held off until successful separation of the spacecraft from the vehicle and the all-important acquisition of signals to and from the satellite.

Representatives of the Air Force's 45th Launch Group and GPS Wing and industry Mission Partners, including Lockheed Martin Space Systems, were all on hand through signal acquisition.

"We say thanks to the booster and range teams at launch, but we don't celebrate or have our hot wash because we're not done," said Lt. Col. John Wagner, 45th LCSS commander. "We're happy at launch, but we're much happier coming off the rocket at third-stage separation - and we only celebrate after we send the first command and get a validation the signal is sent and received. That tells us the months of processing and years of building and integrating this new spacecraft have paid off. Only then do we know that this critical mission passed major risk hurdles and is headed for many years of successful operation."

Colonel Wagner said each mission type and set of customers has its own traditions, but the GPS may have the strongest tradition now due to the longevity of the program.
"We celebrate with non-alcoholic champagne," he said. "We always have a toast by the GPS Wing commander."

Following a spontaneous and hearty round of applause at signal acquisition, GPS Wing commander Col. David Madden led the team in the toast early Tuesday morning. 45th Launch Group commander Col. Scott Henderson then led a breakfast line outside the main conference room.

The IIR-specific process of ensuring separation and acquisition puts the focus on the mission, he said.

"The IIR team, whether, contractor, program office, LCSS, aerospace and Air Force quality assurance, is a true family with total focus on mission success," said Colonel Wagner. "It's important to understand that we don't launch rockets here at the 45th Space Wing - we launch important missions that will benefit joint forces worldwide for many years. This M-code, modernized GPS with the first L5 signal mission is extremely important to worldwide users.

"This was Lt. Ben Seabough's first mission as Spacecraft Operations Officer, he did an excellent job leading our ops team, and it's bittersweet for me, as I know this is my last GPS launch and acquisition," said Colonel Wagner, who will change command this summer. "We have an absolutely outstanding team and overcame many obstacles to get to this point - but mission success is worth the price."