A March Air Reserve Base C-17 with an aircrew from the 729th Airlift Squadron here played a vital role in support of the nation’s GPS satellite program last week when they successfully delivered a full-scale, working mock-up of the next generation of GPS satellite, the GPS III Non-Flight Satellite Testbed, to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The aircraft departed March ARB early Thursday and headed for Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. where delivery of the GNST, enclosed in an oversized shipping container, would occur.
Early Friday morning Loadmasters from the C-17 aircrew and a team of Lockheed Martin technicians prepared the aircraft for the on-load of the container that had arrived at Buckley AFB earlier that morning.
The loading operation was slow and tedious, but eventually the container was hoisted and pulled forward to a point where it could be secured with chains to the aircraft floor.
A unique, delivery oriented mission for the 729thAS. A mission that Aircraft Commander, Kamran Aslam says the Air Force has flown on several other occasions.
In February 2010 and July 2012, an Air Force C-17 delivered two GPS variants, the GPS Block IIF satellite and as recently as May, 2013 a C-17 from March ARB delivered the sixth in a series of 10 Wideband Global SATCOM satellites to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The WGS satellites are capable of flexible communications in both X- and Ka-band width frequencies that provide high-data rate communications for Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, the White House Communication Agency, the U.S. State Department, international partners and other users.
What also makes this mission unique is that when he is not flying missions for the Air Force Reserve, Aslam is a project engineer and works on the GPS Block IIF and GPS III satellite programs as a space vehicle and launch vehicle integrator.
“It’s a real blessing and a real opportunity, said Aslam. “There’s not many cases that I know of personally and perhaps not many overall where someone gets the opportunity in their civilian career to cross over and overlap. And it really highlights what it means I think for us to be Citizen Airmen.”
The GNST was transported to CCAFS to conduct risk reduction processing for mechanical and electrical pathfinding. This helps to reduce the risk of equipment failure when the real flight hardware is brought to the Cape for a future launch.
“It makes it, I think, particularly special to be a reservist.” adds Aslam. “It’s been a great synergy of coordination for my leadership here at March to support this mission.
The GNST is considered to be the pathfinder for the Block IIIA satellite or GPS III and built by Lockheed Martin. Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base is the executive agent for the Department of Defense’s lead in acquiring GPS satellites and associated user equipment.
Military aircraft have been delivering space hardware to CCAFS for several years. C-5 Galaxies and C-17 Globemasters are being used to carry out a vital mission for Air Force satellite programs.