1st ASTS leads way into spacelift

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.-- Capt. Jeremy Weiss, a 1st Air Space Test Squadron launch mission manager, operates a console and performs a pre-launch checklists during the FTG-03 launch attempt on May 25. Members of the 1st ASTS follow along in the countdown checklist as the launch conductor reads the count over the net. ( U.S Air Force Photo )

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.-- Capt. Jeremy Weiss, a 1st Air Space Test Squadron launch mission manager, operates a console and performs a pre-launch checklists during the FTG-03 launch attempt on May 25. Members of the 1st ASTS follow along in the countdown checklist as the launch conductor reads the count over the net. ( U.S Air Force Photo )

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Capt. Joseph Fortin, 1st Air and Space Test Squadron training section chief, operates a console and performs a pre-launch checklist during the FTG-03 launch attempt on May 25, 2007.  Members of the 1st ASTS follow along in the countdown checklist as the launch conductor reads the count over the net.( U.S Air Force Photo )

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Capt. Joseph Fortin, 1st Air and Space Test Squadron training section chief, operates a console and performs a pre-launch checklist during the FTG-03 launch attempt on May 25, 2007. Members of the 1st ASTS follow along in the countdown checklist as the launch conductor reads the count over the net.( U.S Air Force Photo )

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg Air Force Base may very well be redefining the concept of space lift in the years to come. Part of that is due to the work is done by the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron.

1st ASTS is like none other, literally. The squadron prides itself in being the only unit in the Air Force that carries out its space mission, launching a variety of small spacelift boosters and performing developmental spacelift tests at launch sites across the United States.

"We are the only spacelift test unit in the Air Force," 1st Lt. Annette Rivas, a 1st ASTS launch mission manager. "We are a unique squadron, for a unique mission, at a unique base."

From reusing decommissioned missiles to launch satellites, to performing launch missions that allow groups like the Missile Defense Agency to test and sustain their Ground-based Missile Defense interceptor program, the 1st ASTS members enable the Air Force to develop the technology needed in today's world to remain a dominant geopolitical force.

"We are currently restoring and reusing the decommissioned Peacekeeper rocket, which was used for ICBM's in the Cold War, to launch satellites," said Lt. Rivas. "It's an incredible way to launch satellites and save the government money."

The Peacekeeper was decommissioned at the end of the Cold War as a part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The rocket can no longer be used as an ICBM due to the agreement the U.S. made with Russia in START II, according to the U.S. Department of State website.

When the 1st ASTS is not working at Vandenberg AFB or with the decommissioned Peacekeeper, their efforts may be focused at Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia, performing their one-of-a-kind deployable spacelift mission.

"We launched a rocket from Wallops this past year that helps with the Missile Defense Agency's space program," said Lieutenant Rivas.

The program allows MDA to gather valuable information concerning the tracking of missiles during its phases of powered and ballistic flight. For the launches at Wallops, 1st ASTS personnel are completely "hands on" in the launch effort, with the only blue-suit spacelift maintenance professionals in the Air Force.

Squadron members are involved in certifying the rocket is flight-worthy, installing command-destruct hardware required for safe launch operations, and performing ground operations. "At Wallops we drive the loaded transporter up to the pad, and then erect it," said Staff Sergeant Christopher Lanchoney, a 1st ASTS launch operations craftsman. "Then a crane comes and lifts it out of the transporter and on to the pad." These transporters are also unique, a modified version of the equipment used to support the operational Minuteman ICBM force.

The mission of the 1st ASTS does not stop at today, but prepares for tomorrow.
"Currently we are working, as an Air Force, to figure out how we can quickly maintain our satellites once in space," said Lieutenant Rivas. "Operationally Responsive Space will change today's norm of six months prep for a launch to launching at a moments notice."

Although ORS is still in its beginning stages, the work that the 1st ASTS does will not only continue to help the Airman on the frontlines, but has the potential of changing the way those Airmen fight. The prospect of what this squadron brings leaves no doubt why their patches proclaim that they are the "First into the Future."