By Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 01, 2020
An Atlas V AEHF-6 rocket successfully launches from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 26, 2020. The launch of the AEHF-6, a sophisticated communications relay satellite, is the first Department of Defense payload launched for the United States Space Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua Conti)
An Atlas V AEHF-6 rocket successfully launches from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 26, 2020. The launch of the AEHF-6, a sophisticated communications relay satellite, is the first Department of Defense payload launched for the United States Space Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dalton Williams)
In our current reality of self-quarantine, scarcely stocked grocery stores and temporarily closed establishments, one thing that cannot afford to be halted is the launch mission of the United States Space Force. On March 26, 2020, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, the 45th Space Wing and their mission partners safely and successfully launched the Space Force’s first official payload, the Atlas V AEHF-6.
Just one day after entering Health Protection Condition Charlie due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a launch essential to bringing satellite communications to our warfighters was scheduled to launch from the Eastern Range. Upon entering HPCON C, 45th Space Wing commander Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, gave the order to bring Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s functionality to mission and service-essential only. With that directive, all Airmen who were not mission or service-essential began teleworking to avoid any possible spread of COVID-19, though there have been no positive cases on either 45th SW installation.
Although the number of Airmen on installation decreased due to health protection efforts, there was still a mission to be carried out. Whether fully-staffed or mission-essential personnel only, the World’s Premier Gateway to Space still had a duty to the Space Force and the Nation in bringing the last installment of satellites for SATCOM to our warfighters.
“We used the required number of operational personnel to execute the AEHF-6 mission,” said Col. Mark Shoemaker, 45th Operations Group commander. “We executed all of our standard pre-launch operational activities and reviews, but did so in a way to maintain appropriate physical distancing and used technology for virtual connectedness. This approach allowed for all required communications and supported all of our key decision points, leading to successful launch.”
Not only did launch teams rely heavily on technology to accomplish liftoff on launch day, but they also made various physical changes to ensure a safe launch, both for the rocket and the Airmen.
“The Mission Control Room, where range support and safety oversight is executed for each launch, was physically and electronically reconfigured to maximize space between on-console crew members,” said Maj. Christian Morgan, 45th Range Squadron director of operations. “Additionally, all mission readiness and procedure briefings were conducted virtually with only voting or senior crew being physically present.”
As the RD-180 engine ignited and hundreds of thousands watched around the world, the Atlas V AEHF-6 successfully lifted off from the Space Coast. After overcoming the unique challenges presented by COVID-19, Brig. Gen. Schiess spoke directly to his team and to all of the Wing’s mission partners.
“Through the AEHF-6 launch, we delivered on our mission of providing assured access to space for our warfighters by ensuring this protected military satellite was delivered to orbit,” said Schiess. “You came together as a team to accomplish this during unprecedented times as we continue to fight through the effects of COVID-19. Thank you to our mission partners and to you and your families as you show our nation the strength of our team.”
In times of adversity, it is absolutely essential that the public, our Airmen and the newly formed Space Force take care of one another. The first official Space Force mission was carried out in a time of a global pandemic by a team not only dedicated to embodying their mission as the World’s Premier Gateway to Space, but dedicated to doing that as safely as possible; six feet apart from one another.