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AF reservists support GPS launch

Rendering of a GPS Block IIF on orbit. (courtesy graphic)

Rendering of a GPS Block IIF on orbit. (courtesy graphic)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Launch. Companies launch new products. Agencies launch ad campaigns. Celebrities attend launch parties for their autobiographies following the success of television shows. Companies don't want to just introduce new products or start an ad campaign. They need to make it more exciting for themselves and the consumer, making the word launch a bit watered down in today's lexicon.

However, the Airmen of Air Force Space Command and Air Force Reserve Command still use the term in the proper sense; sending 200 foot rockets into space using 290,000 pounds of thrust and placing critical satellite systems on orbit in specific slots. No flight sticks, no yolk, just data and keyboards.

The Citizen Airmen of the 19th Space Operations Squadron are leading launch activities and checkout of the final three Block II-F Global Positioning System satellite vehicles, further increasing the already high accuracy of GPS to the benefit of U.S. warfighters, and literally billions of civilian users around the world. Reservists from 19th SOPS, part of the Air Force Reserve's 310th Space Wing, have led every GPS launch for the past ten years.

"It's humbling to play even the smallest part," said Staff Sgt. Bryan Wynkoop, a satellite system operator with over five launches under his belt. "Some men built the Pyramids and others brought us the Internet. Space systems, specifically GPS, can easily be listed among man's greatest achievements."

On July 15 from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, GPS IIF-10, the tenth of twelve Block IIF vehicles was directly injected into its orbit by the Atlas V rocket. Shortly after liftoff 19th SOPS operators, with assistance from the active duty 2nd Space Operations Squadron, begin receiving telemetry from the vehicle. Climbing at speeds well over 22,000 mph, multiple tracking stations provide constant contact, allowing engineers and Airmen to send time-critical commands.

"Satellite systems need to be turned on at certain times, and we need to tell the satellite when to maneuver to settle into its final spot on orbit," said Traditional Reserve Maj. Andrew Schafer, a veteran of GPS operations, who also works as an engineer on GPS satellites in his civilian career. "I'll never be an astronaut, but commanding a spacecraft from the ground has got to be the next best thing. How many people can say they've maneuvered a space vehicle?"

Civilian team members play a significant role in every launch as well.  Contractors from Boeing and Aerospace Corporation are on hand, making sure the vehicle is checking out normally before it is operationally accepted into the GPS constellation.

"It's been an honor and a privilege to assist with launching these assets so crucial to America's interests," said Mark Smith of the Aerospace Corporation, who has provided GPS launch support since 1999. "GPS has changed the world in only two decades since it became fully operational and I'm proud to be part of the Air Force team charged with the stewardship of such an incredible capability."

Currently, GPS Block IIF-11 will launch in October 2015, with the final IIF launching in February of 2016.
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