1st ASTS supports upcoming Minotaur IV launch

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Green-Lanchoney
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
It was an unusually warm afternoon on Vandenberg's South Base as the members of the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron prepared to stack the Minotaur IV rocket, which is scheduled to launch Aug. 10 from Space Launch Complex-8 here.

As a transport vehicle rounded the corner on Coast Road, on the way to SLC-8, it emitted a pungent puff of diesel smoke permeating the air and announcing its arrival.

At the wheel of the transport vehicle was Staff Sgt. Benjamin Linenberger, the Space Launch Maintenance team chief for the upcoming mission, arriving with the first stage of the Minotaur IV to be stacked in preparation for launch.

As he pulled the air break on the transport vehicle, his team jumped into action to ready the first of three stages to be stacked over the next three days - a function only a few uniformed servicemembers perform.

The 1st ASTS is the only active duty unit in the Air Force that directly transports space launch vehicles.

Prior to stacking operations, a route survey must be formed to ensure that road conditions are suitable for the mission.

"Taking such a heavy load on base roads gets a lot of attention from leadership," said Linenberger.

This step in the process poses considerable risk to the mission and the personnel involved.

"We have to stop every once in a while to ensure that the truck is level," said Linenberger. "If is tilts too much the whole truck could flip over."

Some of the bridges on base must be driven over to get to SLC-8, which is also a major concern.

"The transporter is the maximum weight allowed on the bridge, so we have to make sure that we are the only vehicle on the bridge at that point," said Linenberger.

SLC-8 is about a two-hour drive from the North Base facility that holds the Minotaur IV stages. Fully loaded transport vehicles are only able to maintain a speed of 15 mph, with a maximum speed of 25 mph.

"We are always trying new ideas to fine tune the process," said Linenberger. "This is old equipment; there are times where we have to stabilize the transporter more than once on our trip to the space launch complex."

The space launch maintenance team typically spends eight to 12 hours on the space launch complex preparing the rocket stages for the contractors to emplace on the launch pad. The days are long, but the product is visible in a short period of time.

"This particular mission has a huge impact on our squadron," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Lanchoney, space launch maintenance trainer. "The success of this mission will give the 1st ASTS future test missions of the Minotaur IV."

The squadron is responsible for both the Minotaur I and the Minotaur IV test vehicles that launch out of SLC-8.

"We have a 100-percent success rating and it is something that you want to keep on pushing forward," said Linenberger. "The launch system is proven."

The 1st ASTS is responsible for supporting launches in Kodiak, Alaska, Wallops Island, Va.

"There is a small, select group of people that get to do this mission," said Linenberger. "I love this job; I am happy to get up every morning and get out and do this job."