Rocket science and more

  • Published
  • By Sheila Rupp
  • Nucleus
As the old saying goes, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist ..." - but in this case, it does. The Space Development and Test Wing here is the "primary provider of launch capability, space flight and on-orbit operations for the entire Department of Defense space research, development, and test and evaluation community."

SDTW was created last year from the former Detachment 12 of the Space and Missile Systems Center. The wing is responsible for three programs: the Rocket Systems Launch Program, the DOD Space Test Program, and the Research and Development Space and Missile Operations program.

SMC reorganized its units last July, including the creation of SDTW. Col. Kevin McLaughlin, SDTW commander, said that in creating the wing, Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel joined STP, RSLP and RDSMO into one organization that has a robust set of core competencies. SDTW's new organization is comprised of the Space Development Group and the Space Test Group. "Short of SMC, this wing is one of the most dynamic space organizations in the U.S. space industry," said Col. Kevin Erickson, SDTW vice commander.

At the July 31 re-organizational activation ceremony, General Hamel said, "The activation of these wings helps in building better teamwork, respect and organizational dependence ... We are truly marking a new era for the center."

Colonel McLaughlin said SDTW is unique because in a four-year tour, new officers can gain experience in every facet of a satellite life-cycle: building, launching and operating satellites.

"There is no better place to learn and do than SDTW," is a phrase that is used to describe the wing and the experiences received there. 1st Lt. Eric Snyder agrees. "Many space programs are expensive and require a lot of people, but at SDTW each person is responsible for a lot more," he said.

SDTW is an environment where personnel, especially junior officers, can work on a mission from conception to launch and be in high profile positions, such as mission manager, on multi-million dollar projects. "We want our people to come out of here equipped to do their best for the Air Force," Colonel McLaughlin said.

The wing considers itself a cradle-to-grave shop of space systems. Colonel Erickson said that SDTW is truly a "one-stop shop" to plan and execute space missions. It is one of the wing's strategic thrusts to become Air Force Space Command's Space

Developmental Test Center of Excellence. If approved by the commander of Air Force Space Command, currently Gen. Kevin Chilton, the wing will operate the Space Test School, a training program similar to the Air Force's Test Pilot School.

Another thrust is executing advanced space development and rapidly migrating new capabilities to the warfighter through programs such as Operationally Responsive Space.

Operationally Responsive Space means meeting new requirements within months and getting new capabilities into the hands of those who need them.
This year's theme at SMC is "The year of delivering on commitment." Colonel McLaughlin said a current criticism of the space industry is it can take 10 years and billions of dollars to get new capabilities into the hands of those that need them sooner.
Colonel McLaughlin said, "General Hamel is determined to get programs on track and ensure that we meet milestones."

Under the wing are the Space Test Group and the Space Development Group. SDTG "provides the expertise, infrastructure and processes necessary to accomplish developmental test and evaluation of space assets."

The group also accelerates mission design and provides low-cost access to space by reusing motors from deactivated Minuteman and Peacekeeper missiles. The Dec. 16 launch of the Air Force Research Laboratory's TacSat-2 micro satellite on a Minotaur I launcher used deactivated ICBM rocket motors that were just under 40 years old. Since the launch, the TacSat-2 satellite has been flown out of SDTG's Space Operations Center here.

The SDDG provides "spaceflight for the Space Test Program, research and development payloads, experiments, risk-reduction demonstrations and ORS systems." The group also integrates, launches and operates all DOD payloads on the space shuttle and International Space Station.

One of the most important and exciting missions that SDTW is working on is the DOD Space Test Program-1 mission. Scheduled to launch Feb. 22 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the STP-1 mission holds many firsts for both the wing and the Air Force, and will significantly impact the development of future space systems. This launch will be the first Air Force launch on an Atlas V launch vehicle. The Atlas V is built by United Launch Alliance and is an evolution of the Atlas II and III launch vehicles.

It is also the first Air Force mission that will feature six unique satellites with nine experiments on board, made possible by an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter.

The mission is the maiden voyage utilizing an EELV secondary payload adapter, which allows six secondary satellites in addition to a primary satellite to share a single launch vehicle. The ESPA ring was developed by CSA Engineering, Inc., under a contract with AFRL. On the STP-1 mission, four small satellites, weighing between 150 and 400 pounds each, and one large satellite, the Defense Advanced Research Projects

Agency's Orbital Express are attached to an ESPA ring. SDDG's own STPSat-1, CFESat from Los Alamos National Laboratory, FalconSat-3 from the U.S. Air Force Academy and MidSTAR-1 from the U.S. Naval Academy will all be onboard the ESPA ring .

Lt. Col. Carol Welsch, director of the Space Development Group, said that the STP-1 mission is a very historic mission and is particularly complicated to integrate because of the number of unique satellites onboard, requiring a lot of coordination between different organizations.

All of the satellites became part of the STP-1 mission by applying to the Space Experiments Review Board, a DOD panel that ranks potential space technology experiments on a yearly basis. DOD research laboratories and educational institutions that want access to space but lack funding to purchase their own satellites or launch vehicles compete for a chance to get their experiments sent into space via the SERB process. Nongovernment researchers can also compete if they gain a DOD advocate. The ranked list is then passed on to the DOD Space Test Program at SDDG to determine the best way to get as many of the ranked experiments into space as possible.

The STP-1 mission is also the first dedicated EELV mission for the DOD Space Test Program, as well as the first research and development mission for an EELV. This mission will also be the first time an Atlas V launch vehicle delivers satellites to two different orbits.

The largest satellite, Orbital Express, will have particularly exciting operations, said STP-1 Mission Manager Maj. David Rodriguez. Orbital Express is actually two satellites that will perform some maintenance maneuvers while mated and will separate to perform other operations. Part of the Orbital Express mission will be to transfer fluids from one satellite to the other, while another test features a robotic arm that will simulate a battery pack replacement from one satellite to another while in orbit. The satellites will perform a fully autonomous rendezvous and perform a proximity operation beyond visual contact for reconnection.

The other satellites on the mission will also have several experiments with multiple potential benefits, including satellite communication and navigation improvements for the Global Positioning System, advanced thruster technology, as well as biotechnology and nanotechnology experiments. In total there are nine space technology experiments on the STP-1 mission.

Major Rodriguez has worked as the mission manager for the STP-1 mission for two years, which is longer than many other missions at the SDTW because of the complexity of the project. He said he will feel a sense of relief once the historic STP-1 mission launches on the Atlas V.

"It will be spectacular to see it go up," he said of the $750 million mission.
This launch will be the 50th consecutive successful launch for the Space and Missile Systems Center. The launch will be Web cast at Feb. 22. The launch window opens at 9:54 p.m. EST.

The wing is proud to be developing the space cadre of the future. Colonel McLaughlin said his staff is made up of "brilliant people that love what they do, which makes all the difference." The wing is a vital place for all aspects of space systems to be created and operated. Personnel at the wing participate in the conception of space systems and see projects through to operations. They come away with a wealth of knowledge and hands-on experience. "We have a great mission with bright, dedicated people to match that mission. They make space power a reality for the United States," said Colonel Erickson.