Air Force reservists support special delivery to space

Lt. Cols. Michael Stucker and Gordon Schmidt, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter pilots with the 301st Rescue Squadron, clear the Eastern Range of boat traffic prior to the successful launch of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft Feb. 19 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (Photo by Carleton Bailie)

Lt. Cols. Michael Stucker and Gordon Schmidt, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter pilots with the 301st Rescue Squadron, clear the Eastern Range of boat traffic prior to the successful launch of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft Feb. 19 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (Photo by Carleton Bailie)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Astronauts deployed to the International Space Station received a special package Feb. 23 shipped straight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida Feb. 19 upon the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

The delivery of roughly 5,500 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies, required a lot of time and coordination from many moving parts, including support by 920th Rescue Wing Airmen who launched and piloted an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter.

Pave Hawk pilots Lt. Cols. Michael Stuker and Gordon Schmidt with the 301st Rescue Squadron were tasked with clearing the Eastern Range of boat traffic prior to the successful launch of the spacecraft.

"It's always great to support missions such as this," Stuker said. "This one was especially significant as it was launched from Launch Complex 39A, one of two former space shuttle launch pads. It was the first launch from a shuttle pad since the end of the shuttle era and signifies the return of human space flight is not far away. Not to mention it was carrying some important supplies for the International Space Station."

According to NASA, this was the first commercial launch from KSC’s historic pad.

This mission also marked the historic first-ever launch utilizing the Autonomous Flight Safety System on either of Air Force Space Command’s Eastern or Western Ranges. AFSS takes ground-based mission flight control--personnel and equipment--out of the control center and replaces it with on-board Positioning, Navigation and Timing sources and decision logic, according to 45th Space Wing officials. The benefits of AFSS include increased public safety, reduced reliance on range infrastructure, reduced range spacelift cost, increased schedule predictability and availability, operational flexibility, and launch site flexibility.

An AFSS on-board flight computer uses pre-established, programmed mission rules to determine if the launch vehicle poses an unacceptable hazard to people or property and initiates required actions to mitigate risk and terminate flight, if necessary, 45th SW officials added.

“AFSS is an essential part of the Air Force Space Command’s vision for the future of Assured Access to Space as the system increases range safety with its over-the-horizon capability and its ability to support multiple objects in simultaneous flight, such as a first-stage booster return,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander. “I am proud of the integrated team who worked tirelessly to make this historic mission a success.’”

Following the launch, SpaceX landed the Falcon 9 first-stage booster on the company’s Landing Zone The fly back mission was the third successful one for SpaceX following previous first-stage booster landings on LZ-1 in July 2016 and December 2015.