45th Space Wing Launch Group Streamlines Processes, Optimizes Mission Assurance During Organizational Change

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Atlas and Delta programs merged into one flight

A United Launch Alliance employee helps secure a booster for an Atlas V rocket at the ULA Vertical Integration Facility, located on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 13. The booster, which weighs more than 45,000-pounds, was hoisted into the facility by a team of ULA and 5th Space Launch Squadron engineers. (Image by U.S. Air Force Airman Dalton Williams)

BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FLORIDA – The 5th Space Launch Squadron recently merged mission assurance operations with the 45th Launch Support Squadron (LCSS) to bring technical experts together under one organization and allow for the recently developed Falcon flight to meet future requirements.

Prior to the merger, the members who worked on the United Launch Alliance Atlas and Delta launch vehicles were a part of the 5th SLS under separate flights. However, their counterparts assigned to oversee the SpaceX Falcon launch vehicles were a part of the LCSS.

To maximize efficiency, the Atlas and Delta programs merged into one flight and the Falcon flight officially stood up under their new home at the 5th SLS. With this merger, one squadron is now responsible for all launch vehicle mission assurance.

“Mission assurance” is the process of identifying, tracking and assessing the risk of system deficiencies for launch site assembly and testing, as well as launch vehicle and space vehicle processing activities. This process is a requirement for all National Security Space missions.

Knowing the Falcon launch vehicle would soon support NSS payloads, the team developed a plan to ensure a smooth transition. A methodical “crawl, walk, run” mentality was implemented in July 2017 to begin the transition from initial certification activities.

By January 15, 2018, the Falcon flight entered its final ‘run’ phase, proving ready to provide mission assurance for the GPS III launch scheduled later this year.

United Launch Alliance employees work to raise and secure an Atlas V booster at the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility, located on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 13. (Image by U.S. Air Force Airman Zoe Thacker)

These changes benefit more than just the Falcon flight personnel. Having experts who provide mission assurance for launch vehicles aligned under one squadron allows the team to streamline operations and share best practices, characteristics essential to ensuring public safety as the demand for launches from the Eastern Range continues to increase.

“Organizing all launch vehicle mission assurance under one roof brings all the brainstorming to one place, so the experiential knowledge of what works and doesn’t work can be used to enhance mission assurance,” said 1st Lt. Drew Carrigan, an Air Force responsible engineer in the Atlas/Delta Flight.

“We’ve been forced to reevaluate how we do business and challenge the status quo, allowing the squadron to achieve previously unattained heights.”

In forcing the squadron to look inward and reevaluate, Carrigan said the squadron has actually become more agile in their capability to support multiple mission sets.

“We’ve also become more efficient due to the fact many of our mission assurance personnel are able to cover multiple launch vehicles,” he said.

1st Lieutenant Drew Carrigan, 45th Space Launch Squadron Air Force Responsible Engineer, inspects a set Delta IV heavy boosters during a routine inspection, March 14, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Image by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Dalton Williams)

According to Carrigan, this change is a key enabler to meeting the Wing’s ‘Drive to 48’ initiative by having a certification process for all mission assurance personnel.

“We’ve transformed how a team can balance changing requirements while continuing to ensure mission success as our Wing launches at an unprecedented rate,” said Carrigan. “Now that all launch vehicle mission assurance has been consolidated into the 5th SLS, we are united to crush roadblocks and innovate while safeguarding critical government requirements.”

5th SLS leadership acknowledged the challenge of change noted the expertise their team has allows them to adapt and succeed quickly.

“Change is unpleasant for most and it’s especially difficult when you uproot personnel, relocate them and ask them to completely rethink their way of doing business,” said Lt. Col. Waylon Mitchell, 5th Space Launch Squadron commander.

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“Every member of the 5th SLS was affected by this reorganization in some way, and I was very impressed to see how our members responded with resilience and a positive can-do attitude ready to take on the new challenge.”

Mitchell continued, saying while the launch enterprise is rapidly evolving, the mission assurance community must adapt accordingly.

“We must keep pace with an increasing number of providers, new vehicle designs and innovative concepts of operations, all the while maintaining our commitment to 100% mission success. This organizational change and the ramp-up of Falcon mission assurance is just the first step of many to come on that journey into the future of space launch.”