TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A C-5M Super Galaxy assisted in the completion of a major milestone for the U.S. Air Force’s Space Based Infrared Systems program, successfully delivering a Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite Flight 3 to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Aug. 2.
The 22nd Airlift Squadron, one of the only operational Air Force units tasked with transporting space-related cargo, completed the cross-country flight after uploading the satellite at Moffett Federal Airfield, California.
“Aside from presidential support and contingency operations, this is one of the highest priority missions we are tasked with,” said 1st Lt. Jeremy Dunbar, 22 AS pilot and co-pilot on the mission.
Squadron officials said that the delivery of the SBRIS GEO Flight 3 was conducted on a strict timeline ensuring the projected launch date remained uncompromised.
To comply with the timeline, the 22 AS strategically placed personnel at both departure and arrival locations, where squadron loadmasters efficiently assisted Lockheed Martin officials with uploading and downloading operations – a task typically requiring more than double the amount of time needed for standard cargo loading due to the sensitive equipment.
Although Travis Air Force Base normally employs its specially modified C-5M Space Cargo Modification (SCM) airframe for transporting satellites, the C-5M Super Galaxy was able to successfully accommodate the SBIRS GEO Flight 3 satellite’s container. The container used for transportation was a refurbished version of the same container used to transport the Hubble Space Telescope.
Capt. Corey Curtis, 22 AS pilot and aircraft commander of the mission explained that during flight the aircrew must maintain stringent parameters to ensure safe transport of the sensitive satellite valued at $1.2 billion.
“There are certain parameters that we have to keep the satellite within while inside the cargo bay,” said Curtis. “Primarily it’s about keeping the flight and landing as smooth as possible and ensuring that we stay within the maximum allowable gravitational limits that the satellite can handle.”
Additionally, Curtis complimented the efforts of the unit’s loadmasters for ensuring limitations were not exceeded in terms of center of gravity.
“Our loadmasters did a fantastic job,” he said. “The satellite abnormally changed our center of gravity to one we don’t normally fly with, but our loadmasters kept everything within limits making sure the cargo was delivered safely, efficiently and without damage.”
According to a recent Air Force press release, the delivery of GEO Flight 3 sets the path for final checkout of the space vehicle before launch.
“GEO Flight 3 delivery and launch marks a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the missile-warning community, missile defense and the intelligence community, it’s an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for years to come,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force program executive officer for space, within the release.
“Safe transport of the SBIRS satellite was paramount and the total government and contractor team worked tirelessly to ensure mission success,” Greaves added.
The SBIRS constellation is designed to replace the legacy Defense Support Program satellite constellation. SBIRS will continue to provide significantly enhanced capabilities to support missile warning, missile defenses, battlespace awareness and technical intelligence missions.
The satellite launch is scheduled for early October.