DoD provides support to Discovery launch

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | June 30, 2006

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — U.S. Northern Command is the focal point for military emergency support to the space shuttle, including astronaut rescue and recovery and orbiter recovery. USNORTHCOM, established in 2002 and fully operational Sept. 11, 2003, coordinates U.S. military support for the Department of Defense efforts to assist the space shuttle astronauts in the event of an emergency. All information on DoD units and NORAD contained in this release is subject to change.

Launch Facts
STS-121 will be the 115th Shuttle mission and the 32nd flight for Discovery. Launch will occur at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The second Return to Flight mission will take shuttle Commander Steven Lindsey and six crew members to the international space station. The mission is the second of two test flights to evaluate new thermal protection system inspection and repair techniques and to deliver supplies and equipment to the station.

Launch Window: NASA has announced July 1-19 as the launch window for the Space Shuttle Discovery mission.
Launch Slip Opportunities: 24- or 48-hour scrub possible.
Landing: Duration of the STS-121 mission is 13 days after launch.

NORAD Launch Support
Six Air Force F-15s will enforce the FAA-established Temporary Flight Restriction zone, the center point of which is Launch Pad 39B.

Launch Contingency Support
USNORTHCOM provides a variety of support throughout launch, on-orbit and landing. In cooperation with NASA, U.S. Strategic Command and the U.S. Coast Guard, USNORTHCOM has developed plans to locate and retrieve the astronauts if they have a pad or launch emergency, are forced to bail out of the shuttle, or have to return for landing. Numerous Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard aircraft and Coast Guard ships are pre-positioned or on standby to quickly launch to conduct search and rescue operations. For STS-121, the following Title 10 DoD and Department of Homeland Security assets are supporting the mission:

  • 20 Air Force/Air National Guard pararescue personnel from the 308th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and the 103rd Rescue Squadron, Gabreski, N.Y.
  • 4 HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters from the 301st Rescue Squadron, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
  • 1 Air Force Reserve/Air National Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft from the Air Force Reserve Command's 39th Rescue Squadron, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., and 1 Air National Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft from the 102nd Rescue Squadron, F.S. Gabreski Airport, N.Y.
  • 1 KC-130 Hercules aircraft from Marine Corps Air Group 49, Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y.
  • 6 Army HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters from Fort Irwin, Calif.
  • 5 Air Force UH-1 Huey and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters from White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
  • 1 HU-25 Falcon Jet from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami

The Navy’s Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Center at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., and Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Center and Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va., and the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., and the Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Langley Air Force Base will also be in direct support to the USNORTHCOM commander.

Launch Abort Sites and East Coast Launch Abort Landing Sites
Military units at the following Shuttle Launch Abort Sites are also on alert to support an emergency landing during the launch phase for STS-121. These bases lie near the intended flight path for STS-121:

  • Atlantic City International Airport, N.J.
  • Oceana Naval Air Station, Va.
  • Dover Air Force Base, Del.
  • Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass.
  • F. S. Gabreski Airport, N.Y.
  • Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.
  • Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

DoD Augmented/Emergency Landing Sites
If the shuttle experiences an on-orbit emergency and has to land immediately, NASA has established several civilian and military landing sites around the world. U. S. military personnel at the following locations are prepared to support an emergency landing of the shuttle:

Augmented Sites: While the Primary Landing Site is Kennedy Space Center, Fla., alternate DoD Augmented Landing Sites at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., manned by Holloman Air Force Base personnel, can be quickly readied to support a shuttle landing with an on-scene commander, fire/crash/rescue forces, and medical evacuation capabilities.

Emergency Landing Sites: These locations are strategically located around the world in the flight path of STS-121. They have runways long enough for the shuttle and have compatible navigation aids. The following Emergency Landing Sites are located within the United States:

  • Atlantic City International Airport, N.J.
  • MCAS Cherry Point, N.C.
  • Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
  • McDill Air Force Base, Fla.
  • China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, Calif.
  • Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho
  • Dover Air Force Base, Del.
  • Oceana Naval Air Station, Va.
  • Dyess Air Force Base, Texas
  • Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass. Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.
  • Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.
  • Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
  • F.S. Gabreski Airport, N.Y.

The emergency recovery sites have the minimum number of people needed to assist the astronauts and will respond to a shuttle landing as they would for any large aircraft emergency landing.

Alternate Landing Sites
The shuttle is expected to return to Kennedy Space Center on or about 13 days after launch, and DoD support will be provided from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and USNORTHCOM Headquarters at Peterson AFB, Colo. However, alternate landing sites at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Holloman Air Force Base/White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., are prepared to support a shuttle landing.

Additional USNORTHCOM Support
Joint Task Force-121 serves as the operational-level focal point for search and rescue
operations and crisis response to space shuttle mission contingencies. JTF-121 will also work in concert with Deputy DoD Manager, Joint Forces Land Component Commander, Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander, Joint Forces Air Component Commander and the U.S. Coast Guard, as necessary, to execute USNORTHCOM’s role supporting USSTRATCOM’s mission of Defense Support for Manned Space Flight Operations. JTF-121 consists of:

  • 6 Standing Joint Force Headquarters-North personnel
  • 1 301st Rescue Squadron Liaison Officer
  • 1 Air Force North Liaison Officer
  • 1 Army North Liaison Officer
  • 1 Navy Search and Rescue Liaison Officer
  • 1 2nd Fleet Liaison Officer
  • 1 Coast Guard Liaison Officer
  • 1 Flight Surgeon Liaison Officer
  • 1 USNORTHCOM Public Affairs Officer