“Managing space debris is part of the National Space Policy,” said Capt. Raymond Scholz, Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle System Safety Manager. In a world where the benefits of space permeate almost every facet of our lives, we must manage to keep that environment as clean and as safe as possible, he explained.
Among many significant accomplishments, the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch and Range Systems Safety Team’s work ensured safe execution of the $1.5 billion Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program at the 30th Space Wing, Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and the 45th SW at Patrick AFB, Fla. The team performed multiple mission assurance activities to ensure the satellites made it to orbit, including appropriate collision avoidance analysis (to reduce the risk of collisions between the launch vehicles and orbiting objects) and safe upper stage controlled re-entries.
Additionally, the team built the 2012 Exception to National Space Policy/Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices waiver request package and achieved Secretary of Defense approval on the waiver, allowing five launches to enhance satellite vehicle constellations. Furthermore, the team optimized two mission profiles: one mission became fully compliant with the ODMSP re-entry criteria, and the other was optimized to reduce the disposed upper stage’s orbital life from 24 years to three months. These optimizations resulted in a reduction of cumulative collision risk by 99 percent.
In light of these and other accomplishments, SMC/LR’s safety team won Air Force Space Command’s Space Crew of Distinction Award and is now in the running for the Air Force Chief of Safety’s Space Safety Award. Nomination implies that the individual or team “performed beyond normal expectations of proficiency and/or performance” in contributing to space safety.
LR’s team also refined the strategy for ODMSP compliance from the previous year’s strategy by researching and adding additional programmatic actions to resolve non-compliances. This included researching mission and launch vehicle modifications that could potentially achieve additional compliances. As this plan is improved and implemented, the potential for leaving behind dangerous space debris is reduced, thereby decreasing opportunities for collisions that could put humans in space or our vital space capabilities at risk.
The team also developed and staffed nine launch waivers, two re-entry approvals, and 10 radio frequency deconflictions necessary to permit timely launches. Waivers were reviewed to ensure the contractor was performing the appropriate safety mitigations to allow the launch. Reentry approvals were reviewed to ensure the upper stage re-entered safely and did not pose a major risk to the public when it impacted the ocean. The team also constructed and staffed eight orbital space safety reports to 14th Air Force (Vandenberg AFB, Calif.), ensuring proper risk acceptance and allowing the launch of the eight satellite vehicles.
“LR is the vehicle provider and the conduit to meet this space environment strategy,” said Scholz. “They work in conjunction with the Engineering Directorate to resolve any debris issues.
“After all,” said Scholz, “we fly the satellite into orbit, so we have a vested interest in making sure that what we’re doing is safe not only for the general public, but for space in general. That’s how we come into the picture.”
The team also developed and implemented an improved analysis technique which protects the International Space Station by ensuring a safe separation of the upper stage’s disposal orbit and the ISS’s orbit to ensure there are no collisions. NASA is studying further implementation of this technique.
In this age of reduced resources, the team is nearing completion of certification for a launch vehicle GPS tracking system, which would allow for the reduction of ground-based tracking systems and reduce the cost of range sources as it verifies the launch vehicle stays on course.
Should a mishap occur, this team is prepared with the high fidelity recording effort they manage, capturing the launch in the early stages so they can resolve anomalies quickly, ensure there are no repeats of the anomalies in future missions, and promptly return to flight.
“We worked eight launches last year,” said Scholz. “There’s a lot of moving pieces that have to be completed before a launch happens. And we did that eight times this year – a very busy OPSTEMPO to say the least,” said Scholz.
“It was certainly no easy task,” said Maj. Erick Fonseca, Chief, Systems Integration Branch.
“I am proud of my folks. It is a team effort. They have a lot of influence and credibility. That, in itself, is the essence [of their achievement].”