Assured access to Space: 25 years in the making

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith 45th Space Wing Commander

 The 45th Space Wing will celebrate another significant milestone in its rich and storied history of providing assured access to space when the wing turns 25 years young on Nov. 12, 2016.

Although we’ve had an Air Force presence on the Space Coast since Oct. 1, 1949, and are known for our long-standing history of contributions toward moving America’s interest in space forward, I would like to draw your attention to a few historical events over the last 25 years.

The history of the 45th Space Wing was born on Nov. 12, 1991.  On that date, Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, previously consolidated under the Eastern Space and Missile Center (ESMC) in 1979, and were designated the 45th Space Wing.

The designation was monumental in scope for the entire Air Force. It included our realignment under Air Force Space Command as part of a redistribution of assets following the Cold War and stand down of Strategic Air Command.

Previously, Air Force Space Command considered renaming the ESMC and Western Space and Missile Center as the 4th and 5th Space Wings, respectively.  The plan eventually changed following then Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Merrill A. McPeak’s disapproval of the proposed unit designations.  He turned down several other number designations before approving the 45th Space Wing for the ESMC.

General McPeak made his selections based on the lineage and honors of inactivated flying units.  The 45th Bombardment Group (Light), activated in January 1941 to conduct patrols and search missions off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts until its deactivation in December 1942, served as the basis for the designation of the 45th Space Wing.

With an approved wing structure and a designated unit number in place, the final phase in establishing the 45th Space Wing consisted of activating the new organization and realigning its respective subordinate units.

During times of transition, great leadership often emerges.  This was the case when Brig. Gen. Jimmey R. Morrell took command of the 9th Space Division at Patrick Air Force Base in October 1990.  He didn’t waste any time getting up to speed and quickly became a driving force not only for the Range’s redesignation, but for facility and process changes as well.  The most significant change was the completion of the Range Operations Control Center (ROCC).  Decentralizing and consolidating range operations into a single location for each active launch pad increased safety and efficiency for the wing. 

Prior to Morrell’s arrival, construction of the ROCC experienced numerous delays.  His persistence and insistence on progress was instrumental to the project’s completion in the fall of 1992.  Then on Nov. 2, 2007, the wing recognized Morrell’s contributions and renamed the ROCC the Morrell Operations Center (MOC).  To this day the MOC remains the nerve center for all launch operations on the Eastern Range.

Since its activation in 1991, the wing has supported more than 550 launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station involving numerous space launch vehicles to include the Atlas II-Centaur, Atlas IIIA, Atlas V, Delta II, Delta III, Delta IV, Falcon 9, Space Shuttle and Titan IVB. 

Under the new designation, the 45th Space Wing’s first launch was NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis on Nov. 24, 1991.  Atlantis carried a Defense Support Program satellite into orbit.

Another first occurred on Dec. 7, 1991, when the 45th Space Wing supported the commercial launch of an Atlas II-Centaur that delivered a European television satellite into orbit.  The satellite was designed to route telephone signals across Europe for the European Telecommunication Satellite Organization – EUTELSAT, which we continue to launch from here today.

Adding to that history, the wing pioneered many historical events over the past 25 years to include the first launch of the Global Positioning System replenishment satellite, Navigation System Timing and Ranging II-25 on March 28, 1996.  This system changed the way our members traveled from point A to point B while increasing the accuracy and efficiency of daily operations.  

The advancements of the space evolution did not stop there. On May 22, 2012, the 45th Space Wing supported a Falcon 9 launch on its first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station.  The resupply mission successfully delivered 1,200 pounds of cargo for the station’s crew and experiments designed by students.

Each launch allowed the team to build upon and further advance its programs and processes ensuring continued success.  The combination of evolutionary changes, innovative thinking, increased technology and strong partnership on the Eastern range allowed history to be made, yet again.  On Dec. 21, 2015, the world experienced its first successful return of the Falcon 9 rocket first-stage booster at Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.   

Today, the 45th Space Wing and its Eastern Range assets continue to provide a vast network of radar, telemetry and communications instrumentation to facilitate the safe launch of all Department of Defense National Security Space, National Aeronautics Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, commercial and the Naval Ordnance Test Unit’s Trident II missions.  We launch more vehicles today than we did in 1991 and we do it with 35 percent fewer people.

Our evolutionary and transformational history over the last 25 years has laid the foundation for this wing’s dynamic future.  We are already scheduled to launch more than 30 missions next year and are developing plans to enable us to launch every week.  So, how do we get there from here in an era of shrinking budgets and significant personnel cuts? 

Preparation for our growth in the future will require harnessing the innovative spirit of the past, mixed with today’s ingenuity to reshape our way of thinking.  People and money aren’t coming so it is up to us to work smarter to solve these future challenges.

We are the World’s Premier Gateway to Space and the Spaceport of the Future for one reason and one reason only … YOU!  Your commitment toward improvement and continuous support of the 45th Space Wing are critical to our growth.  This anniversary marks your success and the success of those who came before us.