DOD Support to manned space operations for STS-126

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | November 10, 2008

U.S. Northern Command is the focal point for military emergency support to the Space Shuttle.  Support includes 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
The Space Transportation System 126 will give the International Space Station the ability to support twice the crew currently living on the ISS.  The mission will also repair solar array panels, ensuring the station can generate the power those extra crew members will require.  STS-126 is the 124th space shuttle flight, the 22nd flight for Endeavour, and the fourth flight planned in 2008.

Launch Window:  NASA announced Nov. 14 as the planned launch date for STS-126. 
Launch Slip Opportunities:  24- or 48-hour scrub possible
Landing:  Duration of the STS-124 mission is 15 days after launch and may be extended. 

NORAD Launch Support
Fighters from the U.S. Air Force will enforce the FAA established Temporary Flight Restrictions around the Kennedy Space Center.

Launch Contingency Support
USNORTHCOM provides a variety of support throughout launch, on-orbit and landing.  In cooperation with NASA, U.S. Strategic Command and Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group at Patrick AFB, Fla., USNORTHCOM has developed plans to locate and retrieve the astronauts if they have a pad or launch emergency, are forced to bailout 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-126, the following Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security assets are supporting the mission:

  • U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard Pararescuemen (38th Rescue Squadron  at Moody AFB, Ga.; 48 RQS at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ; 58 RQS at Nellis AFB, Nev.)
  • 4 HH-60s (3 from 301st RQS, Patrick AFB & 1 from 23rd Wing, Moody AFB)
  • 1 U.S. Air Force Reserve/US Air National Guard HC-130 (39th RQS (Air Force Reserve Command)) at Patrick AFB, Fla.; and 2 Air National Guard HC-130 (102nd RQS at F.S. Gabreski Airport N.Y.)
  • 1 KC-130 (4th Marine Air Wing, VMGR-452 at Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y.)
  • 3 Army UH-60s, 2 Army UH-72s, and 1 UH-1 (Fort Irwin, Calif.)
  • 5 Air Force UH-1/OH58s (White Sands Missile Range, N.M.)

The United States Navy’s Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Center at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., and Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Center and NAS Norfolk, Va., and the United States Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall AFB, Fla., will also be in direct support to Commander of USNORTHCOM.

Launch Abort Sites and East Coast Launch Abort Landing Sites
Additionally, U.S. military units at the following Shuttle Launch Abort Sites are on alert to support an emergency landing during the launch phase for STS-126.  These bases lie near the intended flight path for STS-126: 

Atlantic City International Airport, N.J.
Dover Air Force Base, Del.  
F. S. Gabreski Airport, N.Y.
Oceana Naval Air Station, Va. 
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.

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.  US 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 Edwards AFB, Calif., and White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., 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-126.  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. (ECALS)       MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. (ECALS)
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.                     MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, Calif.          Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho
Dover Air Force Base, Del. (ECALS)                        Oceana Naval Air Station, Va. (ECALS)        
Dyess Air Force Base, Texas                                   Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.                      
Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H. (ECALS)         Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska    
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.                            F.S. Gabreski Airport, N.Y. (ECALS) 
White Sands Space Harbor, N.M.                              Kennedy Space Center
Edwards AFB, Calif.

The emergency recovery sites only 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 16 days after launch and DOD support will be provided from Patrick AFB, Fla., Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and USNORTHCOM Headquarters at Peterson AFB, Colo.  However, alternate landing sites at Edwards AFB, Calif., and Holloman AFB/White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., can be quickly readied to support a shuttle landing. 

Additional USNORTHCOM Support
Air Forces Northern serves as the operational level focal point for situational understanding and crisis response to space shuttle mission contingencies.  Additionally, AFNORTH will work in concert with Deputy DOD Manager, DOD Manned Space Flight Support Office, Joint Forces Land Component Commander, Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander, Joint Forces Air Component Commander and the United States Coast Guard, as necessary, to execute CDR USNORTHCOM’s role supporting the Commander of  USSTRATCOM’s mission of Defense Support for Manned Space Flight Operations.  

For additional information about AFNORTH support to STS-126, contact 1st Lt. Jared Scott (850-819-2936), Master Sgt Jerry Harlan (850-774-4061), or contact the KSC Media Center, 321-853-2181.