Library Fact Sheets
45SW RANGE AND LAUNCH OPERATIONS|
Printable Fact Sheet
When the 4800th Guided Missile Wing became the 6555th Guided Missile Wing in May 1951, the unit expected to develop a military or "blue suit" launch capability for a whole host of tactical and strategic missile systems. Though the Army's BUMPER launches at Cape Canaveral were followed by the first launch of an Army REDSTONE ballistic missile in August 1953, air-breathing winged missiles dominated the Cape's launch schedule for most of the 1950s. That decade witnessed the introduction of the MATADOR, SNARK, BOMARC, and MACE missiles. The MATADOR, with over 280 launches to its credit, stood out as the most-launched missile of its era. It had a profound impact on the 6555th's organization, manpower and "blue suit" traditions.
Under the terms of a missile contract, the contractor was responsible for developing a weapon system based on Air Force approved technical requirements. Once a missile program reached the Cape, the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC) was charged with acquiring data to confirm the requirements were met. Test flights focused on the missile's performance first, but they soon gave the military a chance to participate in launch operations. Like their predecessors at Eglin, Holloman, and Patrick, the 6555th Guided Missile Wing was given the pivotal role of observing the contractor's operations and analyzing the results of each test. The Wing also began developing groups of trained military personnel to assemble, check out, prepare, launch, and guide missiles.
The 6555th Guided Missile Squadron, with 33 officers and 284 airmen, assisted the Glenn L. Martin Company with its MATADOR launch program. The Squadron also planned to conduct operational suitability tests and train the first two operational MATADOR squadrons: the 1st and 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadrons. At the same time, the 6556th Guided Missile Squadron had 19 officers and 126 airmen involved in LARK operations to prepare the men for more advanced surface-to-air missile programs like the BOMARC. The 6555th Guided Missile Wing's strength increased rapidly after the 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadron was activated in January 1952. By the end of June 1952, the Wing had 1503 officers and men.
Between 20 June 1951 and 30 June 1952, 18 bright-red MATADORs were launched from the Cape by the Martin Company and the 6555th. The first all-military MATADOR operation was launched on 7 December 1951. Technical delays hampered the program in 1952 and 1953, but the 1st and 69th were reinforced with transfers from the 6555th before the units were reassigned to Tactical Air Command (TAC) in January 1954. The 6555th Guided Missile Group continued to provide both squadrons with administrative and logistic support pending their overseas deployments. The 1st departed Patrick AFB for Germany on 9 March 1954. The 69th departed in September 1954.
With no new MATADOR squadrons to train or support, the 6555th Guided Missile Group was discontinued on 7 September 1954. In March 1955, the Martin Company phased out its testing crew. Fortunately, the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron survived. Over the next six years, the 6555th and TAC missile crews* continued to launch MATADORs at the Cape. The last MATADOR was launched from the Cape on 11 May 1961.
Another thread winding through the 6555th's history was the unit's role in LARK and BOMARC missile tests in the 1950s. The 4803rd Guided Missile Squadron and its successor, the 6556th Guided Missile Squadron launched 40 LARKs from the Cape between 25 October 1950 and 8 July 1953. Range support requirements for the LARK shots were modest the "targets" were often nothing more than corner reflectors borne aloft by balloons. As the LARK program ended, the Squadron's attention shifted to the BOMARC, which was a tactical surface-to-air missile built by the Boeing Aircraft Company with the help of the Univerity of Michigan, Westinghouse, Marquart Aviation, and the Aerojet Corporation.
Unlike the LARK program, the BOMARC test program was essentially a contractor-led operation. Six airmen from the 6555th's 20-man BOMARC Section were assigned to help Boeing with electronic equipment maintenance in late March 1953. Nine other airmen assisted the University of Michigan at the Cape. The Air Force Missile Test Center provided range support and test facilities at the Cape, and AFMTC's safety agencies ensured that safety requirements for the 15,000-pound 47-foot-long missile were enforced. Seventy BOMARCs were launched from the Cape between 10 September 1951 and 15 April 1960. The program was transferred to the Air Proving Ground Center's test site at Santa Rosa, Island near Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
The SNARK surface-to-surface missile was another major program at the Cape in the 1950s. As an intercontinental weapon system, Northrop's SNARK would ultimately go to the Strategic Air Command (SAC), but, in accordance with its mission, the 6555th Guided Missile Wing was directed to develop its own blue suit launch capability for the SNARK well in advance of SAC units. The Wing received its first SNARK training missile in May 1952, and the 6556th Guided Missile Squadron activated a SNARK cadre on 16 June 1952. By 1954, the 6555th had 76 officers and airmen in training to form the nucleus of a SNARK launch outfit. Unfortunately, the SNARK's development was plagued with problems, and military launch demonstrations did not get underway until the summer of 1957. Two SNARKs were launched by all-military crews in October and November 1957.
The Air Force Missile Test Center picked up responsibility for SNARK operational evaluation testing on 14 May 1958, and Northrop's Field Test Crew launched its last SNARK on 28 May 1958. SAC activated its 556th Strategic Missile Squadron at Patrick AFB on 15 December 1957, and the 556th launched its first SNARK under the supervision of the 6555th Guided Missiles Squadron on 27 June 1958. Following completion of its training, the 556th was assigned to the 702nd Strategic Missile Wing at Presque Isle, Maine on 1 January 1959. The 6555th supervised the training of 188 other SNARK missilemen by the end of 1959. The Cape's last SNARK was launched on 5 December 1960.
On 21 December 1959, officials redesignated the 6555th, making it the 6555th Test Wing (Development). The 6555th was assigned to the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division. the 6555th picked up technical management for the Air Force's ballistic missile flight test programs at the Cape. Despite the 6555th's reorientation to ballistic missiles, the Wing's MACE Operations Division proceeded to develop a blue suit launch capability for Martin's winged surface-to-surface MACE missile. The Division had been in existence "in one form or another" since July 1958, so its heritage (through December 1959) is included among the 45th Space Wing's other honors. Some of the Division's personnel completed factory training in 1958 and assisted Martin with MACE B launches at the Cape in October and December 1959.
The 6555th remained a tenant organization at the Cape through the 1960s and 1970s, but it was returned to the host agency -- the Eastern Space & Missile Center (ESMC) -- when the latter was activated on 1 October 1979. At that time, the 6555th had three divisions to carry out its mission: the STS (Space Shuttle) Division, the Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division, and the Satellite Systems Division. The 6555th Aerospace Test Group created its Programs/Analysis Division around April 1981 to deal with budget and facility planning matters. Following the first Shuttle missions, the Air Force streamlined payload operations by consolidating the STS Division and the Satellite Systems Division. The two divisions became the Spacecraft Division on 1 November 1983.
The Spacecraft Division directed ground processing operations for Defense Department payloads. The Division determined the technical readiness of spacecraft, equipment, and facilities. It also provided the Air Force Test Director for Space Shuttle missions involving Defense Department payloads. The Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division exercised field test management over all TITAN 34D, IUS, CENTAUR and TITAN IV vehicles and upper stages associated with military missions launched from the Cape and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
In the summer of 1987, there was talk of creating a "DELTA Division" to handle the 6555th's new DELTA II launch vehicle program. On 1 June 1988, 23 manpower positions were transferred to form the initial cadre of the Medium Launch Vehicle Division. The new division became the focal point for all launch site activities related to medium launch vehicles. It would also certify the vehicle and its payload for launch.
When ESMC was transferred to Air Force Space Command on 1 October 1990, most of the 6555th's personnel were transferred to the newly established 1st Space Launch Squadron, the ATLAS II and TITAN IV Combined Test Forces (CTFs), "Payload Operations," and "Ops Resource Management." On 2 October 1990, Colonel Michael R. Spence assumed command of the 6555th and an additional position on the ESMC staff as Deputy for Launch Operations. Under this new dual-hatted position, Colonel Spence supervised all the resources formerly assigned to the 6555th Aerospace Test Group.
Following the creation of the 45th Space Wing on 12 November 1991, the Cape's various missile and spacecraft organizations fell into place. The 1st Space Launch Squadron (responsible for DELTA II operations) was reassigned from ESMC to the 45th Operations Group on 12 November 1991. Following the second successful launch of a military ATLAS II/CENTAUR mission, the ATLAS Division was activated as the 3rd Space Launch Squadron in a ceremony on 3 August 1992. The TITAN CTF (responsible for TITAN IV operations) became the 5th Space Launch Squadron on 14 April 1994. The 45th Spacecraft Operations Squadron had been activated on 12 November 1991 to oversee all Defense Department payloads. However, on 13 May 1994 the unit was inactivated and its resources and functions were divided up among the three launch squadrons. Each launch squadron thus became responsible for supervising payloads associated with its respective system (i.e., DELTA II, ATLAS II or TITAN IV).
On 29 June 1998, another reorganization of units and responsibilities required the inactivation of the 5th Space Launch Squadron and the transfer of its responsibilities to the 3rd Space Launch Squadron. However, following the first highly successful DELTA IV and ATLAS V launches in 2002, the5th Space Launch Squadron was reactivated on 1 December 2003 to oversee all Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) operations at the Cape. Following final ATLAS IIIB/CENTAUR and TITAN IVB flights at the Cape in February and April 2005, the 3rd Space Launch Squadron was inactivated effective 30 June 2005. On the same date (30 June 2005), the 45th Launch Support Squadron was activated under the 45th Launch Group to provide the latter's launch support functions.
The launch squadrons' roles under the 45th Space Wing continued the traditions developed by the 6555th from the 1960s through the 1980s. The squadron commanders had overall responsibility for launch operations in their respective squadrons, but they relied on a highly trained and educated team of officers and non-commissioned officers to conduct day-to-day operations at the Cape. Each squadron had operations controllers to act as on-scene representatives during booster and spacecraft processing operations. They ensured safety and security standards were maintained and proper procedures were followed. Systems engineers reviewed hardware modifications and monitored individual contractor actions. They participated in engineering "walkdown" inspections to detect vehicle damage and improperly installed hardware at the launch pads.
Each squadron's portion of the launch team consisted of a launch director, a launch controller, a launch operations manager, several operations controllers, a facility operations manager, booster and (later) payload countdown controllers, systems engineers, a facility anomaly chief, and an anomaly team chief. The Launch Director commanded the squadron's launch crew, and he made the final launch vehicle go/no-go recommendation to the Mission Director before the launch.
Quality Assurance was an essential part of successful military space operations at the Cape. The launch squadrons emphasized quality in their operations, but the principal responsibility for quality assurance was carried out by civil servants in another part of ESMC and the 45th Space Wing. In the early 1980s, ESMC assigned the quality assurance role to about 100 civilians under the Center's Directorate of Contracting and Support. The Division became a directorate following ESMC's reorganization in April 1986, but its duties continued to address the following highly specialized programs:
Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster recovery and refurbishment
NASA and Defense Department payloads
Inertial Upper Stages
TITAN 34D and TITAN IV launch vehicles
Following the 45th Space Wing's activation in November 1991, the Directorate of Quality was reorganized as an office under the 45th Logistics Support Squadron. The office continued to provide quality assurance in all the aforementioned areas until September 1994. At that time, quality assurance supervision for the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Booster recovery and refurbishment was transferred to NASA. In later years, the 45th Range Management Squadron (under the 45th Operations Group) had a quality assurance flight to provide oversight for TITAN, ATLAS and DELTA payloads, and various range contracts (e.g., Range Standardization and Automation Contract, Spacelift Range Systems Contract, Range Technical Services Contract, and Launch Operations Support Contract).
Wing Safety (formerly known as Range Safety) was an ESMC and (later) 45th Space Wing staff agency with extensive responsibilities for launch vehicles and payloads, flight trajectory analysis, and launch operations. Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) was a military agency, and it came under Range Safety and (later) the 45th Civil Engineering Squadron. The EOD division was responsible for the disposal of munitions, explosives, and other hazardous materials. The organization recovered unexpended solid fuel and safed live flight termination system ordnance found in launch vehicle and missile debris. The EOD division was transferred from Range Safety to the 45th Civil Engineering Squadron on 12 November 1991. The latter's title was shortened to the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron in 1996.
In passing, we should mention the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron's role in range operations. The Squadron operated, maintained or supervised facilities, utilities, and fire protection services at Patrick, the Cape and the downrange stations. The Squadron was responsible for "cradle-to-grave" designs for facilities, and it monitored construction contracts to make sure they met specifications. It should be noted, however, that not all construction projects were managed by the squadron. Some projects at Patrick and the Cape were monitored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Others were supervised by agencies that reported to the Space & Missile Systems Center (SMC) in Los Angeles, California.
Wing Safety and the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron both had a mix of military and civilian personnel to carry out their varied tasks. As of 31 December 2005, Wing Safety had 3 officers, 7 enlisted people and 63 civilians. During the same period, the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron had 17 officers, 186 enlisted people and 251 civilians.
Under the old Range Safety organization, the Missile Systems Safety Division was responsible for safety features and destruct mechanisms. The Division also looked after design safety in launch and ground support facilities. Range Safety's Missile Flight Control Division (later known as Missile Flight Control & Analysis) provided military and civilian Mission Flight Control Officers (MFCOs) to handle safety matters during launch operations. The MFCOs acted as the Wing Commander's direct representatives. They sent destruct commands to an errant vehicle in the event of a launch mishap. In August 2000, the MFCOs were transferred from Range Safety to the 45th Operations Group per higher headquarters direction. The Missile Flight Analysis Division (later merged with Missile Flight Control & Analysis) evaluated requests for missile and launch vehicle flight azimuths. This task included risk calculations and the establishment of impact limit lines and destruction criteria for each launch.
During the ESMC era, the Deputy Commander for Systems Development was responsible for planning, developing, and managing instrumentation systems on the Eastern Range. The actual work of installing and operating range systems was the Range Technical Services contractor's job, but the Deputy Commander's four directorates oversaw the contractor's efforts. By the fall of 1990, the Deputate had 5 officers and 36 civilians to accomplish its tasks. When the 45th Space Wing was activated on 12 November 1991, the Deputy Commander's resources were transferred to the 45th Maintenance Squadron under the 45th Logistics Group. Most of the 45th Maintenance Squadron's long-range planning resources were transferred to the Eastern Range Special Projects Office (under Air Force Materiel Command) in the fall of 1993, but the Squadron's other functions were retained. Effective 4 June 1999, the 45th Maintenance Squadron was inactivated and its resources were transferred to the 45th Communications Squadron. The unit was redesignated the 45th Space Communications Squadron effective 1 October 2002. As of 31 December 2005, the 45th Space Communications Squadron had 14 officers, 54 enlisted people and 93 civilians.
During the late 1980s, the Commander of the Eastern Test Range was responsible for operating and maintaining the Eastern Range. He had a civilian range director as his principal assistant and directorates for range operations, resources and management. The station commanders on Antigua and Ascension also reported to him. The Directorate of Range Operations became the 45th Range Squadron on 12 November 1991. Under either title, the organization planned and coordinated individual test programs on the range. The unit was the range customer's single point of contact for range services. As such, the unit created detailed support plans, accepted new requirements, monitored program funding and ensured range services were provided to the customer. On 1 December 2003, the 45th Range Squadron was inactivated, and a new unit, the 1st Range Operations Squadron, was activated to carry on range operations. As of 31 December 2005, the 1st Range Operations Squadron had 19 officers, 9 enlisted people and 30 civilians.
Detachment 11 of the 2nd Weather Squadron became the 45th Weather Squadron under the 45th Operations Group when the 45th Space Wing was activated in November 1991. Under either designation, the unit monitored the collection and synthesis of all weather data pertinent to Patrick AFB and the Cape's operations. The weathermen provided briefings and forecasts, updated planning and program documents and evaluated new weather instrumentation for possible use on the Eastern Range. As of 31 December 2005, the 45th Weather Squadron had 7 officers, 18 enlisted people and 9 civilians.
Since the Eastern Range was run under government contract from 1954 onward, contract management was a vital part of the 45th Space Wing's operations and those of its predecessors. From the late 1980s through the 1990s, the key range contracts - Launch Base Support, Range Technical Services and Photographic Services - employed between 3,400 and 4,000 people. As of 31 December 2005, the 45th Contracting Squadron had 7 officers, 9 enlisted people and 97 civilians to handle range contracts, service contracts and "other agency" contracts at Patrick and the Cape. Put simply, the Eastern Range could not run without contracts, and the Contracting Squadron (known earlier as the Directorate of Contracts) made sure those contracts were written and performed as intended.
The 45th Space Communications Squadron has been mentioned earlier. Though the 2179th Communications Squadron and its successor, the 2179th Communications Group served the Eastern Range from 1962 onward, they were assigned to the Air Force Communications Service until the Group was transferred to the Eastern Space & Missile Center on 1 October 1990. At that time, the 2179th had 8 officers, 272 enlisted people and 80 civilians. The Group was reorganized as the 45th Communications Squadron under the 45th Support Group. As noted above, the 45th Space Communications Squadron had 14 officers, 54 enlisted people and 93 civilians at the end of December 2005. Despite the reduction in resources, the Squadron continued to provide Air Force approved communications and electronics services, flight facilities and navigational aid systems to support the Eastern Range and the 45th Mission Support Group.
*The following TAC units completed their MATADOR training at the Cape: the 11th Tactical Missile Squadron, the 17th Tactical Missile Squadron, the 588th Tactical Missile Group, and the 4504th Missile Training Wing.