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The Cape, Chapter 2, Section 1

TITAN and Shuttle Military Space Operations

6555th Aerospace Test Group Responsibilities

The history of military space operations at the Cape is bedecked with great engineering feats and gilded with spectacular space flights. The forces behind those achievements were often channeled to a good end by the diligent efforts of the 6555th Aerospace Test Group and its work with other agencies (e.g., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, launch vehicle and spacecraft contractors, range contractors and higher headquarters). It is only fitting that we continue our examination of military space operations with an overview of the 6555th Test Group's organization, duties and responsibilities (and those of its successors) as set forth in Air Force documents in the early 1970s, late 70s, mid-80s and early 1990s. This introduction applies equally to chapters II and III, since both medium and heavy launch vehicle systems will be addressed.

At the beginning of 1971, the 6555th Aerospace Test Group consisted of a commander's office under Colonel Davis P. Parrish and three divisions (e.g., Support, ATLAS Systems and TITAN III Systems). The Group's overall mission was to provide field test management and launch support for AFSC and other agencies at the Cape. Its responsibilities included: 1) representing the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO) and the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing at the Cape in the areas of technical test direction and program control, 2) integrating Air Force, other government agency and contractor efforts in support of program field test management, prelaunch and launch support, 3) determining the test and/or launch readiness of launch vehicles and payloads and 4) providing liaison between the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing and the Air Force Eastern Test Range (AFETR) organization. Under the Test Group's concept of launch operations, Air Force launch operations engineers were placed "on the scene" to work closely with booster, payload and range support contractors. They observed individual and combined systems tests, and they helped contractors resolve problems and meet test objectives successfully under the pressure of time constraints. Based on their familiarity with those systems, the Test Group's "blue suit" engineers evaluated trend data and performed failure analysis in concert with the contractors. Their principal duties were those of field test engineers.1

Though the Test Group's launch operations revolved around the ATLAS and TITAN III systems divisions in the early 1970s, the Group established its Space Transportation System (STS) Division on 1 July 1974 to ensure the Defense Department's Shuttle requirements were factored into future Shuttle operations at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Under the direction of Lt. Colonel Morgan W. Sanborn, the five-member STS Division set up shop in KSC's Headquarters Building and began working STS ground support system issues with the NASA Shuttle Project Manager (Dr. Robert Gray) and his staff. The Division's responsibilities included development of the STS Ground Operations Plan and definition of the facilities, equipment, security and safety systems that would be needed.2

Figure 36: Colonel Davis P. Parrish

On 1 November 1975, the Test Group reorganized its ATLAS and TITAN III launch vehicle agencies under a new division, the Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division. On the same date, the ATLAS Satellite Launch Systems Branch and the TITAN III Space Satellite Systems Launch Operations Branch were consolidated under the newly-created Satellite Systems Division. The changes were directed by the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing Commander to combine booster operations under one division chief and payload operations under another division chief. In the same vein, the IUS Operations Branch was placed under the Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division when that branch was formed on 1 July 1977. Following the final ATLAS/AGENA launch on 6 April 1978, the Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division and the Satellite Systems Division shifted their respective attentions from ATLAS/AGENA operations on Complex 13 to ATLAS/CENTAUR boosters and payloads designated for Defense Department missions on Complex 36.3

When the 6555th Aerospace Test Group was transferred from the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing to the Eastern Space and Missile Center on 1 October 1979, the Group's three divisions were left intact. The Test Group created its Programs/Analysis Division around April 1981, but that division dealt with budget and facility planning matters, and it reinforced rather than diminished the basic missions of the other three divisions. Later on, following the first Shuttle missions, the Air Force saw a need to streamline Shuttle/DOD payload operations by simplifying "interfaces" between NASA, the Air Force and various contractors. The STS Division and the Satellite Systems Division were consolidated to form the Spacecraft Division on 1 November 1983. Until June 1988, the 6555th based its organization on the Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division, the Spacecraft Division and the Programs/Analysis Division.4

Under the KSC/6555th ASTG Joint Operations Plan for DOD Missions (dated 7 January 1985), the Spacecraft Division directed ground processing of Defense Department payloads and determined the technical readiness of spacecraft, ground support equipment and facilities. Its Air Force test controllers managed spacecraft hardware testing in the Shuttle Payload Integration Facility (SPIF), and the Division provided the Air Force Test Director for Space Shuttle missions involving Defense Department payloads. The Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division exercised field test management and control over all TITAN 34D, IUS, CENTAUR, and TITAN IV vehicles and upper stages associated with military missions launched from KSC and the Cape. The Programs/Analysis Division processed documents related to the Test Group's responsibilities and its plans for the future. In the summer of 1987, there was talk of creating a "DELTA Division" to handle the Test Group's new DELTA II launch vehicle program. On 1 June 1988, 20 manpower authorizations were transferred from the Space Launch Vehicle Systems Division to form the initial cadre for the Medium Launch Vehicle Division. (The Spacecraft Division transferred three of its manpower slots to the new division as well.) Under the 6555th Test Group's charter, the Medium Launch Vehicle Division became the focal point for all launch site activities related to medium launch vehicles. The new division would provide engineering direction for booster, upper stage and payload activities, and it would certify the vehicle and the payload for launch.5

The next important shift in the 6555th Test Group's organization occurred as a result of ESMC's transfer from Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) to Air Force Space Command (AFSPACECOM) on 1 October 1990. On that date, 175 out of 241 personnel were transferred "on paper" from the 6555th to the 1st Space Launch Squadron, the ATLAS II and TITAN IV Combined Test Forces (CTFs), "Payload Operations" and "Ops Resource Management." The Test Group's remaining personnel remained attached to the 6555th, but their numbers dwindled to approximately 25 military members and 11 civilians by the end of December 1991. Colonel Michael R. Spence assumed command of the 6555th Aerospace Test Group on 2 October 1990, and he was given an additional position on the ESMC staff as Deputy for Launch Operations. Under this new "dual-hatted" position, Spence supervised the resources formerly assigned to the 6555th Aerospace Test Group.6

Figure 37: Colonel Michael R. Spence

Following the inactivation of ESMC and the creation of the 45th Space Wing on 12 November 1991, the Cape's various military launch and spacecraft organizations were locked into place. The 1st Space Launch Squadron was reassigned from ESMC to the 45th Operations Group. The ATLAS II and TITAN IV CTFs were placed under the 45th Operations Support Squadron until such time as they could become fully operational squadrons in their own right. (The TITAN IV CTF became merely the "TITAN CTF" under the 45th Operations Squadron, and the ATLAS II CTF became the ATLAS Division.) The Ops Resource Management Office became the 45th Operations Support Squadron's Launch Operations Support agency.

The Payload Operations Office became the 45th Spacecraft Operations Squadron. Colonel Spence succeeded Colonel James N. Posey as 45th Operations Group Commander on 31 January 1992, and Lt. Colonel William H. Barnett became the 6555th Test Group's "Acting Commander" in addition to his duties as Director of the TITAN CTF. Lt. Colonel Barnett assumed command of the 6555th in his own right on 25 March 1992. Air Force Systems Command and Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) were consolidated into Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) on 1 July 1992, and the 6555th Aerospace Test Group was deactivated. The Test Group's liaison function between AFSPACECOM and Space Systems Division was assumed by Detachment 8 of the Space and Missile Systems Center. Following the second successful launch of a military ATLAS II/CENTAUR mission on 2 July 1992, the ATLAS Division was activated as the 3rd Space Launch Squadron.7

Figure 38: 45th Operations Group Emblem

The Cape: Miltary Space Operations 1971-1992
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History
1201 Minuteman Ave, Patrick AFB, FL 32925

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