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1st ROPS vital to all launches

CAPE CANAVERAL AFS, Fla. -- When NASA, a private corporation, the National Reconnaissance Office or the Department of Defense wants to put something into orbit using the Air Force's Eastern Range, the personnel of the 1st Range Operations Squadron (1st ROPS) make it happen.

The squadron, under the 45th Operations Group, plans and monitors launches across the 15-million-square-mile range. They see to and coordinate all the users' needs.

"We're there from start to finish," said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Walker, squadron superintendent. The squadron's involvement with a launch begins even before a launch date is set.

Each launch vehicle program has a program support manager who coordinates launch requests and the required support. "No vehicle is launched from the Eastern Range if the customer doesn't give us their requirements," said Rick Day, program support manager for the Atlas V program.

Each agency that requests launch support must submit a program requirements document at least 120 days prior to the requested launch date. Some launches require more time than others. Mr. Day recalled one launch that he worked for five years from the time the request was made to the final launch.

After the requirements document is processed, the program support manager assesses whether or not the range can meet the agency's launch requirements and what needs to be done to meet those requirements if there are any shortfalls.

After a launch is scheduled, the squadron continues its involvement. While other wing agencies are focused on preparing the spacecraft and booster, 1st ROPS is supporting those processing operations, determining what range assets will be needed to support the launch of that booster and training the crew that will be on console in the Range Operations Control Center (ROCC) at Cape Canaveral AFS on launch day.

Each launch is unique and requires different range assets to ensure a line of sight is maintained with the vehicle as it moves out over the Eastern Range. For example, an Atlas V heading to the northeast might use the radar located at Argentia, Newfoundland, and a Delta II booster flying due east would require the facilities at Antigua and Ascension Island. In addition to the land-based stations, aircraft and ships at sea watch the launch vehicle as it leaves the Earth.

"It's a whole team of folks working in concert," said Sergeant Walker. "We track these vehicles very, very closely."

As one of the principal advisors to the spacelift commander (the 45th Space Wing commander, vice commander or 45th Operations Group commander), the range operations commander leads the 1st ROPS launch team in the ROCC.

The ROC coordinates the actions of the other team members to include: the range control officer, who tracks range instrumentation status and executes the final countdown; the aerospace and surveillance control officers, who clear the air and sea spaces surrounding the launch site and along the rocket's trajectory; and the mission flight control officers, who have the all-important responsibility of sending destruct functions if the launch vehicle goes off course.

The squadron is dedicated to giving its customers the best service possible while also safeguarding the public that these launches benefit.

"We do our best to make sure our customers get all the data they need from the booster and spacecraft," said Lt. Col. Peter Sterns, 1st ROPS commander, "But at the same time, we have to ensure all mandatory safety requirements are met to protect the Space Coast and surrounding communities."