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The fabrication of space

Photo of orbital mechanics trainer

A large orbital mechanics trainer is prepared for shipping from the Vandenberg Training Device Design and Engineering Center, Nov. 25, 2019, Vandenberg AFB, Calif. TDDEC has been building training tools and devices for space and missile professionals for more than 60 years, and orbital mechanics trainer orders at TDDEC have been on the rise over the past few years, a testament to the growing importance of space education in today’s Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Peterson)

Photo of orbital mechanics trainer

An order of desktop orbital mechanics trainers is prepared for shipping from the Vandenberg Training Device Design and Engineering Center, Nov. 25, 2019, Vandenberg AFB, Calif. TDDEC has been building training tools and devices for space and missile professionals for more than 60 years, and orbital mechanics trainer orders at TDDEC have been on the rise over the past few years, a testament to the growing importance of space education in today’s Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Peterson)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

As the need for space superiority continues into a new decade, training and education will lay the foundation for building up future leaders in the U.S. Space Force. Within the 30th Operations Support Squadron is a shop whose core mission is to create high quality training tools and devices for the space and missile community.

The Training Device Design and Engineering Center has a long tradition of building training tools and devices at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Established in 1958,  TDDEC began their mission during the early years of U.S. Air Force launch vehicle testing. For the past 62 years, expert technicians at TDDEC have been designing and fabricating a variety of scale models, mockups, device prototypes, interactive simulators and one-of-a-kind tools all aimed at improving education and training.

“We are a world class design and fabrication center with customers from coast-to-coast,” explained Dell Barritt, the TDDEC director. “The TDDEC supports the entire U.S. Air Force space and missile community, which includes Air Education and Training Command units, the Air Force Academy, weapons school and depot detachments.”

Barritt manages a shop of five expert technicians with a wide range of engineering and design skillsets, allowing them to see each job through from beginning to end.

“TDDEC is a rare concept-to-delivery work environment,” said Barritt. “It requires our employees to interface directly with customers, design and engineer utilizing the 3-D computer aided drafting system SolidWorks, and develop time and cost estimates. They also have to perform all aspects of fabrication processes to include purchasing materials, computer numerical control (CNC) machining, welding, wood-crafting, 3-D printing, mold-making, casting, painting, laser-engraving and more.”

This combination of capability and versatility helped the TDDEC technicians win a cost comparison against open market contractors, resulting in the shop being designated as an A-76 Most Efficient Organization.

A quick look through the shop provides a seamless example of their continued legacy of building training tools - a large group of globes with revolving rings known as orbital mechanics trainers. These hands-on visuals aids are designed to help teach space officers the fundamentals of orbital mechanics, as space becomes more integrated into modern military education. 

“It’s great to see these aids being made so well by our TDDEC shop,” explained 1st Lt. Abby Bierschbach, 30th Operations Support Squadron chief of instructor training. “When I was in class at the U.S. Air Force Academy, we made orbital trainers out of paper. It’s difficult to visualize astronautical concepts, especially when you take a test, so these will greatly help students and space officers with orbital equations.”

These training aids will help educate future generations of airmen, which is why TDDEC continues to improve their design with each new order, using more advanced engineering software and machine tool technology to make the best possible product.

“The TDDEC team puts great pride into every item we build. Our legacy has paralleled Vandenberg’s space history, and each member of our team is a continuation of a long line of highly trained technicians and professional fabricators,” said Barritt. “We understand that our devices are used globally to provide high quality training to our space and missile professionals, and it is with great pride that we continue our contribution with the U.S. Air Force.”