Vandenberg’s multinational CSpOC team supports NASA’s multinational space missions

News Article / December 15, 2020

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By Major Michael Lang

I’ve had the privilege of working on two historic NASA missions over the past year, during which the United States launched astronauts into space from its own soil for the first time since 2011. Although these launches took place from a launch pad in Florida, my participation in both launches took place from the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Forces base, California. This team of space experts from Vandenberg not only had Americans and Canadians like me on it, but a whole host of multinational partners as well.

The first of the two manned launches this year took place on May 30, 2020, and it was no surprise seeing the excitement around the operations floor leading up to the event. That day, the SpaceX Demonstration Mission #2 (DM-2) launched from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, and marked the first launch of US astronauts from US soil since the last shuttle launch, Atlantis, occurred on July 8, 2011.

Our team here at the Combined Force Space Component Command’s CSpOC worked very hard to ensure this was a well-planned and executed mission. Through the tactical execution of checklists, the many weeks of planning and assisting sister agencies, to the use of our sensors used to track the launch from land to orbit, we knew this was definitely a historic and monumental launch.

What we noticed from this launch was simple: human space flight is exciting to everyone, regardless of what country is launching astronauts into space. Countries like Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom reached out expressing interest in supporting this launch and future space missions.

From my perspective as space operations officer and air traffic controller, I think the DM-2 mission pushed us even harder to find creative ways to disseminate data to all partners and ensure all sensors were primed and ready to track the spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station (ISS). For instance, we initially discovered that no two countries “spoke the same language” when describing technical data, and we quickly realized we needed to collaborate and standardize the reporting of this important data for mission success.

The second mission sending humans to space from the United States took place on Nov. 16, 2020, aboard the SpaceX Dragon Crew-1 ‘Resilience’ capsule. Like the CSpOC team that supported the mission, the crew of three Americans and one Japanese astronaut was also multinational.

I had the honour of being the CSpOC lead for the Dragon Resilience mission. Many of the core functions of this CSpOC team were similar to the DM-2 mission, which included providing Space Domain Awareness to Dragon Resilience and the ISS to avoid any collisions with other space objects, and, just as important, communicate that data between NASA Johnson Space Center and other partners in this mission. We also tracked Crew-1’s trajectories as it maneuvered to the ISS, actively disseminated this information to partner sites, and communicated with the 18th Space Control Squadron for tracking real-time milestones such as maneuver times, docking, and status of the capsule.

I certainly think that our small team of about 15 people at Vandenberg made a big impact on the successful Dragon Resilience mission. We are also shaping the future of human space flight missions by redefining how we work together and execute our missions with the help of our allies and partners. With Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and others showing support to the program, I am hoping that future missions only grow in terms of multinational presence and partnerships. It only makes sense to have a multinational team supporting multinational space missions. We are certainly stronger together.

This article was previously published on the Vandenberg Air Force base website, at https://www.vandenberg.spaceforce.mil/News/Commentaries/Article/2430344/vandenbergs-multinational-cspoc-team-supports-nasas-multinational-space-missions.

About the Author

Maj Michael Lang is a Royal Canadian Air Force Officer assigned to the Combined Force Space Component Command’s Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force base, California. He is the first allied partner there to hold the role of deputy chief, Human Space Flight Support, and has a background in Space Operations and Air Traffic Control. He was also the CSpOC lead for the recent SpaceX Dragon Crew-1 ‘Resilience’ mission. He has worked Missile Warning and Space Domain Awareness at Beale Air Force base, California, and as deputy chief within Delta 2, formerly known as the 21st Operations Group, Standardization and Evaluation Division, at Peterson Air Force base, Colorado.

 

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