45th Space Wing unveils Multi Vehicle Launch Support Center
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla, — The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing officially opened the Multi Vehicle Launch Support Center (MVLSC) during a countdown ceremony today at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Headquarters Building. The center provides room for up to 60 people to monitor a launch from and the subsequent first stage landing attempt at CCAFS. Initially, the MVSLC will be used by the USAF to monitor SpaceX launches.
The Center supports up to 60 people who will be monitoring SpaceX or other, possible future commercial launch service providers (currently only United Launch Alliance and SpaceX launch rockets from the Cape). The room was used to control 60 Delta II launches from 1997 to 2011. It has a view of three active launch pads plus pad 13 where SpaceX hopes to eventually land a first stage for re-use.
The ceremony was conducted by Col. Eric Krystkowiak, commander, 45th Launch Group. He noted, “this is an opportunity for us to gather, to commemorate the history of the Cape as a launch facility, to celebrate the success of our customer partnerships and capabilities, and we contemplate the possibilities going forward.”
“The facility was built in 1995 to support the Delta II launch operations at SLC-17 and was known as the Delta II Ops Building. The launch control itself was in a blockhouse 1000 feet from the launch pad. This was the norm, back in the era. You can still see evidence of this practice if you drive along ICBM road and you see the blockhouses and heritage facilities out there. The dangers were real. In 1997, a mishap of the Navstar GPS, just 13 seconds after lift-off caused 250 tons of debris to fall within 3000 feet of the launch pad. While no debris penetrated the blockhouse, a piece of solid rocket fuel put a hole in the cable track and the blockhouse filled with smoke. All 73 occupants of the blockhouse were successfully rescued. But safety concerns lead to the relocation of the launch control center to this very room. This Delta II launch control center continued to operate at the Cape all the way up through the 10th of September 2011 for the launch of the GRAIL mission. In total, 60 launches of the Delta II were launched from this room. The facility was dormant through 2013,” Krystkowiak said.
He continued, “When SpaceX launched their first mission on 4 June 2010, with a newly formed Air Force Mission Team supporting and monitoring from the old Titan IV Launch Control Center. The next five launches were supported from the old facility. Many in this room, or our predecessors realized the potential use for the room we are standing in. With this room available, the choice was easy to build a center to support emerging launch customers on the range.”
As the Air Force continued to support SpaceX, and with several emerging launch companies also indicating an interest to begin the certification process, the Space & Missile System Center directed the 45th Space Wing to generate a new launch support center able to support certification and mission assurance efforts for new entrants in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. This facility ended up being perfect to fit the task at hand. The facility was fully renovated in six months, in two phases to support three SpaceX missions: AsiaSat 8, AsiaSat 6, and CRS-4. The MVLSC was fully mission capable in December 2014. It was fully utilized in the launch of DSCOVR. This was actually the first USAF SpaceX mission and it went off very well.
“As you can see, the MVLSC supports 30 computers, 60 monitors, and communications to support 12 Range video feeds, pad video countdown timing, launch vehicle and ground system data, six projector screens. The first customer, SpaceX has also provided a graphic user interface for real time data monitoring for the government team which is identical to the SpaceX displays used to conduct launch operations. The facility is primed and ready to support future customers just the same,” Krystkowiak said.
NASA has also indicated that the adjacent Kennedy Space Center will also become a multi-user spaceport. It is unclear which other launch service providers will be making Florida’s Space Coast their destination to launch from. In fact, SpaceX has even opened up new launch facilities in both California as well as Texas.
“While it is not currently a control center, it is designed to adapt to future customer needs. So, as we look to the future, this spaceport will support missions launched from pads, the sea, under the sea, and even from the air. We will need the capability to support missions that go down range, into Earth orbit, leave the Earth’s gravitational pull, land on the Moon, and even fly back to the Cape. This facility has the flexibility to support the wide range of missions for our customers and the United States government,” Krystkowiak said.
Video courtesy of the USAF 45th Space Wing
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