Launch time: 2 ROPS key to Vandenberg mission

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
A button is pushed, a missile launches, it hits its target and everyone goes home.
Sounds simple right?

Actually, launching a missile, especially one like the Missile Defense Agency interceptor launched here Friday, requires much more than just a button push. It takes more than a year of planning, coordination between myriad agencies and careful observance of day-of-launch conditions.

While it takes the whole of the 30th Space Wing to execute a launch, it's the 2nd Range Operations Squadron that tracks the missile to its target from day one.

About a year and a half before the day-of-launch, the 2nd ROPS program support team receives the requirements for the launch. This includes a program requirements document and operations requirements document, a data management plan, information on what sites and instrumentation will be needed, as well as preliminary trajectory data for the Wing Safety office.

"The documentation is the long-lead items," said Lt. Col. Marcelino Del Rosario, the 2nd ROPS commander. "Users don't just contact the range and say 30 days from now we want to launch."

One important document is a list of data items that are required. The client, for example the MDA, builds their data requirement list off a menu of data items the range is capable of producing. This data is later used to study and improve the missile defense capability.

With all the documents in hand, the program support manager then puts together the launch documentation and sets up the prelaunch support and the instrumentation support plan for the mission. That's when the scheduling office takes over, using all the information gathered to schedule the test launch on the range.

"It's quite challenging sometimes to meet all the requirements on their timelines," said Robert Corser, a 2nd ROPS supervisor of real-time scheduling. "We have to integrate (one mission) with other users on the range."

Those users include the United Launch Alliance, Boeing, Orbital Sciences to perform the spacelift missions and the Range also supports Minuteman tests. But scheduling a launch isn't just making sure these entities launch at different times; it also requires coordination with other ranges involved in the launch. For example, in Friday's launch, scheduling had to coordinate with Kodiak, Alaska and the Naval Air Warfare Center in Point Mugu, Calif to use their instrumentation to support the interceptor test.

Military offices aren't the only ones involved, either. There is coordination with California Fish and Game, harbor masters along the California coast, AMTRAK and Pacific Railroad, which has tracks that run through Vandenberg.

The coordination and work doesn't stop there. As the day of launch approaches, the operators of the 2nd ROPS begin their tasks - careful planning and cooperation that takes a team of professionals.

"I have a professional team of operators, a professional team of contractors, a professional team of civilians that know this job really well," said Colonel Del Rosario. "When it's time for (30th Space Wing commander) Colonel (David) Buck, as the launch decision authority, to say, "Go for launch," everybody really has done their job."

(Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series describing the 2nd Range Operations Squadron's role in launches from Vandenberg.)