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Wing prepares for DAWN to rise

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 45th Space Wing is set to help launch the NASA DAWN spacecraft on a Delta II booster from Cape Canaveral AFS on a journey to observe two asteroids. 

Before the rocket even leaves the ground, the 45th Weather Squadron, 1st Range Operations Squadron and other 45th SW agencies are working to ensure a safe mission. 

Joel Tumbiolo, 45th Weather Squadron launch weather officer, monitors weather patterns beginning four days prior to the launch. To accomplish this, Mr. Tumbiolo has an arsenal of instruments at his disposal, including two weather radars, four lightning and electric field detection systems, a network of wind towers and a weather reconnaissance aircraft. 

"The weather system that causes the most trouble is when a thunderstorm develops or moves within 10 nautical miles of the launch vehicle's flight," said Mr. Tumbiolo. "We must be clearly convinced that all of these constraints are not violated before weather is go for launch." 

Mr. Tumbiolo distributes these forecasts to the launch team members up to the day before the planned launch. On launch day, he continues to watch atmospheric conditions - including winds, temperature, precipitation, lightning and more - using a set of launch commit criteria that determines if it's safe to launch. He also provides periodic weather briefings for the launch team during the pre-launch countdown. 

While the weather squadron looks after the conditions surrounding the launch site, the 1st ROPS monitors the Eastern Range assets to ensure they are ready to go. An important person in that effort is the forward observer ground (FOG). 

For this mission the FOG is Tech. Sgt. Gregory Jones, of 1st ROPS. 

"The FOG is the real eyes on the ground for the Mission Flight Control Officer," said Sergeant Jones. 

On launch day, Sergeant Jones will be stationed at what's known as the wire site. While still a few miles from the actual launch site, he is one of the closest people to the launch, and is actually located inside the security perimeter. 

Four days prior to launch Sergeant Jones will survey the site to make sure nothing impedes his view of the launch vehicle and its path. One day prior he will gather the gear he needs for the operation, including the equipment to enable him to safely get out of the area in case of an accident and with two hours until the launch he will leave the Range Operations Control Center and report to the wire site. 

Upon arrival Sergeant Jones will make communications checks and will adjust the site to ensure a clear view of the vehicle. He will report initial ignition or negative ignition, solid rocket booster ignition, liftoff, tower clear and that the vehicle is heading the correct way. On the other hand, he can also report to the flight control officer the break-up of the booster, separation and confirm destruct. 

Getting so close to the launch makes being FOG an exciting job for Sergeant Jones. "You can feel the rumble of boosters off of the launch pad and see the solid rocket boosters tumble down into the ocean," he said. "Despite foul weather and a few insect bites, rare is a complaint heard from a FOG after a successful launch." 

Members of the 1st Space Launch Squadron are part of the team that checks out the launch vehicle itself. First Lt. Cory Broussard, as booster operations controller for this mission, is part of those preparations. 

Prior to the launch, Lieutenant Broussard and his team will inspect the vehicle, looking for frayed wires, scuff marks, anything that could develop into a problem. "You have to be diligent and pay close attention," he said. 

Lieutenant Broussard said he is proud to be a part of the DAWN mission. 

"It's really cool to take part in a scientific NASA mission like this and help to find out how our solar system began."