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Optics stays focused on mission

Members of the 30th Space Communications Squadron, Optics Section, track a ground based interceptor with a mobile tracking mount at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Optics records multiple angles of high-speed video which is reviewed post-launch to detect anomalies. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Members of the 30th Space Communications Squadron, Optics Section, track a ground based interceptor with a mobile tracking mount at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Optics records multiple angles of high-speed video which is reviewed post-launch to detect anomalies. (U.S. Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Due to Vandenberg's unique mission, squadrons on base have adapted to fulfill specialized tasks, exclusive to a space base.

The 30th Space Communications Squadron is one such organization that functions in a different capacity than many of their counterparts on aircraft-oriented bases.

While typically residing in the Mission Support Group, Vandenberg's communications squadron is placed in the Operations Group and works on the front lines of the launch range, ensuring that critical information is sent and received during launches and visual documentation of launches is captured.

"We manage the information between sites on the range," said Eddie Ybarra, 30th SCS deputy director. "Any data that comes from the Space Launch Complexes has to ride our transports to get to the range facilities. Most communications squadrons don't have a range side of the house, so they are purely communications. Because we have our involvement in space launch, we are called a Space Communications Squadron."

Data transport for launches isn't their only unique iron in the fire however, and the 30th SCS has a designated optics section that doesn't exist at most bases, which is tasked with technical documentation both on and off the range.

"The primary function of optics is to conduct launch videography and photography of launch vehicles," said Dan Liberotti, 30th SCS, visual information systems specialist. "Our objective is data analysis for anomalies. We also take pictures of the launch vehicles coming in and the buildup of the boosters on the pad and do the technical documentation of the launch vehicle and satellites."

Providing multiple angles of high-speed video, optics records this data and gives it to the requestor, which goes to the company responsible for the launch.

"We have a number of pad cameras that take high-speed digital images of rocket engines and umbilical releases," said Liberotti. "We also have tracking mission requirements. We have cameras on a tracking mount that go out into the field at close range and at long range. Our goals are driven by our customers, it could be United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, NASA or anybody else launching from the base. They give us their data requirements and that specifies what camera positions they want us to set up and how long they want us to track the launch vehicle."

Despite the months of preparation between launches, those few moments during liftoff make the wait worth it.

"We are only a mile and a half away on launch day in our tracking mounts," said Liberotti "And when we feel the force of the rocket's thrust hit us in the chest as it's leaving, it's amazing, there is nothing else like it."