The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing is on its way to ensuring its launch range at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, is prepared to address the increase in new space launch providers and newfound desire to send more payloads up to space more quickly.
The service’s “range of the future” may be coming online as early as 2025, involving a common range architecture for both the U.S. Eastern and Western Ranges with shared protocols and connected systems that enable increased flexibility, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Douglas Shiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing.
“We are incrementally working toward that” target date, Schiess said at an Oct. 9 breakfast event hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute on Capitol Hill.
The Air Force used to be fully in charge of the launch environment, Schiess noted. But now, with a need for increased access to space and a host of new companies entering the launch market, the service must adapt to the modern circumstances.
“We need to be able to have the minimum essential infrastructure to be able to launch from either the Eastern or Western Ranges, but [also support] an individual launch provider that may need something different,” he added. “So instead of us spending a lot of money to provide that for them, let’s provide an infrastructure into which they can plug and play, so they can bring whatever they need or want for their specific launch.”
The wing is in the process of standing up a modernized data and communications common architecture, including putting telemetry on vans to allow for more rapid and transitioning launch plans, he added. Funding is programmed over the service’s Program Objective Memorandum (POM) cycle, he noted, but did not elaborate on exact numbers.
“It is a priority,” he emphasized, but added that the ongoing continuing resolution is affecting the schedule. “Obviously, working with Congress, we want to be able to get a signed budget so that we can get after some of those things.
Schiess noted that new U.S. Space Command Commander and ongoing Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. John Raymond “wants go to faster” and move the Air Force ranges away from using traditional flight termination systems, that help protect range and flight personnel as well as surrounding areas during a launch, to an autonomous flight safety system that was first implemented for a SpaceX launch in 2017.
“In the ‘25 to ‘30 [timeframe,] we need to be all autonomous flight safety system and we need to have the range of the future infrastructure to do that,” he said.
In other efforts to speed up launch schedules and promote flexibility, the 45th Space Wing has several targets related to its “launch on demand” goal, including plans to perform two launches in a 24-hour window. “I am confident that is on the horizon,” Schiess said.
In August, two launches took place at the Eastern Range within 34 hours, he noted. At the time, Schiess was prepared to approve the two launches to take place within 10 hours, if necessary, he added.
The Air Force also wants to launch 48 launches per year, he said. The service oversaw 24 launches in calendar year 2018 and could launch close to 30 in 2019. The lowest point, Schiess said, was in 2007 when only seven launches occurred.
“We may not be at 48 per year yet, but we’re on the way to having the training, the people, and the processes in place to make that happen,” he said.