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Supporting the first Space Force launch amid pandemic all in a day’s work

Stephen Kuper

Amid the current reality of self-quarantine, scarcely stocked grocery stores and temporarily closed establishments, one thing that cannot afford to be halted is the first launch mission of the US Space Force.

Supporting the first Space Force launch amid pandemic all in a day’s work
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On 26 March 2020, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, the 45th Space Wing and its 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 US and allied warfighters was scheduled to launch from the Eastern Range.

Upon entering HPCON C, 45th Space Wing Commander Brigadier General 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.

Colonel Mark Shoemaker, 45th Operations Group Commander, said, "We used the required number of operational personnel to execute the AEHF-6 mission. 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."

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 American and allied warfighters.

Not only did launch teams rely heavily on technology to accomplish lift-off 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 maximise space between on-console crew members. Additionally, all mission readiness and procedure briefings were conducted virtually with only voting or senior crew being physically present," said Major Christian Morgan, 45th Range Squadron director of operations

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.

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