April 27, 2016 – The 3rd Space Operations Squadron selected eight Airmen to be part of the Launch and Early Orbit teams April 21 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
The teams will represent the 50th Space Wing for the launch of Wideband and Global SATCOM-8 and 9 satellites, the Department of Defense’s most robust communication satellite system. WGS-8 is scheduled to launch September 28, and WGS-9 is scheduled to launch February 1, 2017.
The WGS-8 team comprises 1st Lts. Christian Figueredo and Mary Holman, 2nd Lt. Johnny Pak and Senior Airman Caleb Lynch. The WGS-9 Team includes 1st Lt. David Heinrich, 2nd Lt. Bryce O’Neill, Senior Airman Brandi Saari and Airman 1st Class Shawnee Hewitt.
“We don’t get a chance to do this often,” said Lt. Col. Chris Todd, 3 SOPS commander. “It takes a long time to operationally check out a satellite, which is why we take so much effort to select the best of the best, to represent us, 3 SOPS, sitting side by side with Space and Missile Systems Center and Boeing contractors during Launch and Early Orbit.”
To go from a launch to satellite control authority transfer, the process takes approximately four months, and another three months for payload checkout and verification, Todd explained.
The rigorous team selection required a competitive process that included knowledge-based tests, problem solving scenarios and interviews.
“I am just honored to be selected. It was a tough process overall. Everyone who went through the process was extremely qualified,” Pak said.
Hewitt echoed the sentiment. She said since the Air Force only launches WGS satellites every couple of years, 3 SOPS only selects four Airmen out of the entire squadron to conduct Launch and Early Orbit operations for each WGS.
“It’s exhilarating because I knew somebody who was on the WGS-7 Launch and Early Orbit team, and I got to see how the experience was,” she said. “Being able to work with the contractors, just delve into the whole process of sending up a satellite and getting a lot of inside knowledge of the satellite itself is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
For now, the two teams will perform their normal mission, until they conduct a one-month launch rehearsal in June, followed by the actual launches. During the launch, they will assist in the satellite orbit raising and testing phase post launch, and subsequently will fly the entire constellation following completion of initial on-orbit testing.