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Vandenberg ready for X-37B landing

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- After more than a year of extensive preparation, Vandenberg is ready to host the landing of the Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle scheduled to occur here between Friday, Dec. 3, and Monday, Dec. 6.

The X-37B is the latest and most advanced re-entry space vehicle capable of being launched into low Earth orbit altitudes and is able to endure extended periods of time performing space technology experimentation and testing.

"This is a historical first, not only for Vandenberg Air Force Base, but for the Air Force and our nation to receive a recoverable spacecraft here and really take a step forward in advancing unmanned space flight," said Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander.

On April 22, a United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle carrying the X-37B was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Prior to the X-37B's East Coast departure, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which is leading the Department of Defense's Orbital Test Vehicle initiative, needed the assurance before launching the vehicle that Vandenberg was prepared for the landing of the spacecraft. Following a request, preparation for landing became a high priority at Vandenberg, which required a cumulative effort of base personnel in order for approval of the X-37B landing here.

In one instance, a team of about 80 people from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, 30th Launch Group, 581st Missile Maintenance Squadron, 30th Operations Support Squadron's airfield operations flight and Vandenberg's Training Device Design and Engineering Center assembled to replaced 658 plates along the flightline's centerline to increase the levelness of the airstrip and to prevent a puncturing hazard to the X-37B's landing wheels.

In another example, Vandenberg's mission flight control officers have been preparing for the landing of the spacecraft by practicing various scenarios that could occur during a landing attempt and the procedures to complete the task of monitoring the vehicle from its de-orbit stage to its landing on flightline.

"I am as prepared as I am for every mission; we have seen every case and have talked about cases that we haven't seen," said 1st Lt. Pierre Gregoire, 2nd Range Operations Squadron mission flight control officer. "We are looking at every possible situation that can occur to the vehicle and what we're going to do in that situation."

Receiving a vehicle as opposed to launching one from Vandenberg has challenged the MFCOs to slightly modify their approach to their normal mission preparation.

"The procedures and terminology have changed a little bit, but as you can imagine, the one thing that hasn't changed is the focus on public safety," Lieutenant Gregoire said. "How we train for the mission really hasn't changed except for the fact that we have a little bit less of an archived history to go off of and it adds a little more excitement to be doing something for the first time."

The excitement has been mounting at Vandenberg as the historical landing of the Air Force spacecraft approaches.

"With it being such a unique mission for the base, it is exciting to be a part of this historic landing," said Capt. Dariusz Wudarzewski, 2nd ROPS range operations commander. "For how long we have been working on it, I think everyone is really excited to see it culminate."