Vandenberg launches aren't as simple as they look

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As the Missile Defense Agency's Chimera modified Minuteman II rocket blew past the horizon, Aug. 23, Airmen from the 30th Space Wing released control of the rocket to the MDA.

The Western Range operations crew led by the 2nd Range Operations Squadron and made up of members from different squadrons throughout the 30th Operations Group, is responsible for the safety and success launch of the rocket.

"Launch agencies will come to us and tell us they want to launch from our base," said Capt. Erik Schultz, a 30th SW Range Operations Commander Advisor. "We then check the constraints of the launch to decide whether or not Vandenberg can support."

The safety of a launch is always a top priority, said 1st Lt. Erin Smith, a 30th SW Range Operations Commander, and the Range Team lead for this MDA mission.

Vandenberg's missions continue to be safe due to the base's strong stance that launches will not threaten civilian population.

"Vandenberg will never support a launch that will fly over Santa Maria or Los Angeles," she said. "We are into launching safe, successful rockets."

In order to achieve a safe launch, area surveillance must take place first.

"In order for a launch to be safe and successful we have to correspond with the railroads to halt all train activity near the base as well as the coast guard to make sure the shorelines are protected," said Staff Sgt. Derrick Thompson, a 30th SW Aerospace Control Officer.

They use radars to survey the sky prior to and during a launch, Sergeant Thompson said.

Vandenberg is responsible for the rocket until it breaks the horizon line set by radar, and the fuel emission is no longer a potential risk to civilian population, Sergeant Thompson said.

The range team, whose workload steadily inclines until launch day, participates in range-only dress rehearsals, count-down tests and many other exercises to prepare for launch day.

Even with all of the preparation, there are some things that can't be controlled.

"One thing that becomes difficult to prepare for is the weather," said Gary Davis, a 30th SW Launch Weather Officer.

We study weather patterns to make sure the conditions still make a launch possible, he said.

The range team's hard work has a direct effect on the mission here at Vandenberg. The launch mission at Vandenberg is an example of the Air Force's continual effectiveness on supporting satellites, which is essential in the global war on terrorism.