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The 4th SLS: Keeping the mission on track

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Courtesy Graphic

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

Vandenberg will launch a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying a National Reconnaissance Organization payload, Sept. 21.

The 4th Space Launch Squadron is one of the many critical teams working to ensure the launch goes off without a hitch.

The 4th SLS ensures the risk of vehicle failure during launch is as small as possible.

“All of the missions we conduct have one main focus; mission assurance,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Decker, 4th Space Launch Squadron commander. “The government doesn’t buy insurance for their launches, so the way I look at it is that we are the eyes and ears on the ground. We are watching the processing of the vehicle as we proceed to the launch date. For mission assurance we are tracking the vehicles and we are doing an independent risk assessment of them. We then provide that information back to the Space and Missile Center. They are the program office for the launch vehicles. We also work directly with the space craft customer, which in this case is the NRO.”

While mission assurance is the bread and butter of the 4th SLS, they also provide critical communication between all parties involved in the mission.

“We provide mission integration, which is the role of our launch mission managers,” said Decker. “These individuals are helping to facilitate communication between those various organizations that are part of the mission, such as the program office at SMC in Los Angeles, the NRO which is the space vehicle lead, and the 30th Space Wing which provides the safety and the range support, as well as the infrastructure. We also monitor launch infrastructure because we want to ensure the integrity for future launches.”

Maj. Alexander Chumpitaz, flight commander technical assurance flight is serving the critical role as the Air Force launch director for the NROL-42 mission.

“This is how I end my Air Force career, since I will be retiring in the spring,” said Chumpitaz. “I have been a space operator and served down range, and seen first-hand the effects from the satellites that Vandenberg has placed in orbit. It’s a really humbling experience, and to be a part of the early stages of the operation is fantastic. This whole thing has been a long process, correcting issues that we hadn’t anticipated, and just pushing through to keep everything on the right schedule.”

With less than 50 members, the 4th SLS stays quite busy covering four primary areas, mission assurance preserving launch capabilities, mission integration and operational assessment

“Mission assurance involves ensuring the integrity of all the processing on the pad,” said Decker. “Mission integration, which involves complex coordination with all the organizations involved in the launch. Preserving launch capabilities, which involves the inspection of infrastructure. And the last thing we do is on the day of launch, we provide an operational assessment to the mission director and the space launch commander.”