1st ASTS provides critical support for Minotaur launch at Cape

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

The 1st Air and Space Test Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base will be assisting with the first ever Minotaur IV launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The 1st ASTS team coordinated the transport for the first three stages of the engine to Cape Canaveral AFS where they will provide support through the day of launch.

The Minotaur IV is an expendable launch system derived from an old Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

“We have specialized equipment here, where we stack the Minotaur and make sure they are good to go,” said Capt. Julian Martinez, 1st ASTS mission integrator. “The upcoming launch at Canaveral is a Minotaur IV vehicle, which is an old peacekeeper system. There are five stages, and the DoD owns the first three. We are the only Air Force blue suit team that is able to maintain, ship and handle all of these rocket components. When we are out there we always get referred to as ‘the Air Force guys’, because we are the only uniformed personnel that have a direct impact on ground operations.” 

As the only unit in the Air Force that can stack and transport the Minotaur IV, the 1 ASTS utilizes experienced missile maintainers on a space assignment.

“As a unit we rely heavily on the missile maintainers that have prior experience in the missile fields,” said Brian Tafoya, 1st ASTS flight chief. “Even though we are now on the space launch side of the house, we are able to use the knowledge of the ICBM delivery systems to ensure we do our part in the launch process. It is a bit different than what we are used to. Instead of loading a missile into a silo we get to stack it on a launch pad. Our ICBM experience translates directly into the small space lift mission and is a pretty unique experience.”

The primary responsibility of the 1st ASTS is to ensure the launch vehicle is processed and stacked for a successful mission.

“For this upcoming launch from the Cape, we shipped the first three stages out about a month before the projected launch date,” said Martinez. “After the boosters arrive in Florida, we coordinate with the 45th Space Wing to use their cranes to load the boosters onto Minotaur specific trucks called Type-II’s, for convoy to the launch pad. After all three stages are stacked on the launch pad, we hand custody off to the launch service provider, Orbital ATK. Stage four and five are owned by Orbital ATK and include the payload, avionics, and instrumentation.”

With a low launch tempo for the Minotaur family of vehicles, the 1st ASTS team is constantly training.  This prevents future discrepancies and maintains currency.

“We don’t launch a lot of these, so one of the ways we stay ready for a real operation is by practicing,” said Martinez. “We run through procedures and talk with quality assurance, keeping everything up to date. This mission will launch August 25th from Cape Canaveral AFS is a pretty monumental event for the whole squadron. The team will be traveling to watch the launch, and perform post-launch equipment recovery.” 

The team may be small, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in dedication and expertise.

“When we conduct an operation like this, from cradle to grave, it gives us a sense of pride,” said Tafoya. “We have maintained a mission ready posture and now have a chance to prove what we can do. It is always a challenge to stay consistent across a few year gap between missions, but we do, and when we have a Minotaur launch we are mission ready.”