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CONR supports final space shuttle launch

7/8/2011 - CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (AFNS) -- Spectators looked on as Space Shuttle Atlantis roared to life for the final time, as the orbiter and crew launched into space from here July 8.

Members of the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, or Continental NORAD Region, and Air Forces Northern provided airspace control and shuttle support to the final launch of Atlantis.

"AFNORTH and CONR have two separate missions supporting the launch," said Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, the CONR-AFNORTH commander. "For the air defense piece, or CONR piece, we patrol the (sky above) the shuttle, and for the AFNORTH piece we provide the manning for potential search and rescue operations should the astronauts need to bail out of the orbiter."

CONR pilots ensured airspace sovereignty by enforcing the Federal Aviation Administration's temporary flight restriction area established around Kennedy Space Center. Using F-15E Strike Eagles, the pilots performed CONR's Operation Noble Eagle mission.

CONR officials also supported launch operations by deploying the Joint-Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center team to Cape Canaveral to provide a comprehensive air picture to the entire launch team.

"By bringing in multiple real-time radar pictures, the JBECC is able to create an integrated air picture that is forwarded by our tactical data link support to the fighters patrolling the airspace around Shuttle Atlantis," said Maj. Renae Wright, the JBECC operations director. "This is the 18th shuttle launch that JBECC has supported. I am very proud of the JBECC team and the mission we support."

The JBECC, assigned to the 601st Air & Space Operations Center at Tyndall AFB, Fla., is a highly mobile, rapidly deployable, communications system that networks multiple real-time radar sensors and correlates their data into an improved air picture for the warfighter. This capability enables NORAD to better detect, track, identify and prosecute any airborne aircraft, cruise missile, unmanned aerial vehicle or remotely piloted vehicle.

AFNORTH provided the headquarters manning for U.S. Northern Command's Joint Task Force-Space Transportation System, responsible for the search and rescue of the astronauts and recovery of the orbiter if the need arises. AFNORTH also serves as the operational level focal point for providing mission awareness and crisis response to space shuttle mission contingencies.

The task force provided the command and control of Department of Defense forces during crisis response operations from the Morrell Operations Center at Cape Canaveral AFS.

"This joint task force plays a significant role in NASA's shuttle program, a program that has been in place for 30 years," said Navy Capt. James Hineline, the JTF-STS commander. "There are many moving parts and close coordination among key players that have to happen to ensure a successful launch. CONR, Joint Task Force-Space Transportation System, our C-130 (Hercules) aircraft and (HH-60) Pave Hawk helicopters at Patrick AFB, Fla., and the 114th Range Operations Squadron here at the Cape makes up a lot of that coordination."

The 114th Range Operations Squadron at Patrick AFB provided range safety and tracking support for shuttle launches occurring on the Eastern Range.

"Prior to liftoff, the 114th coordinates with CONR and the Eastern Air Defense Sector to ensure there is transparency between the Operation Noble Eagle air patrols and range operations," said Lt. Col. Julia Black, a launch safety officer. "In the case of a shuttle search and rescue scenario, AFNORTH members on JTF-STS would work with 114th range operators to maneuver forces as quickly and safely as possible to locate the astronauts."

The 114th ROS mission is to provide support to the 45th Space Wing during Eastern Range launches and to operate and maintain the Ballistic Missile Range Safety Technology program.

"As NASA's manned space shuttle program comes to an end, I must say it has been a true honor to have been a part of a program that has shaped our history," Dean said. "Joint Task Force-Space Transportation System, the men and women of CONR, AFNORTH, and all the other supporting agencies have done an outstanding job supporting the shuttle program, and as a commander I couldn't be more proud."

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