DOD Support to manned space operations for STS-127

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | July 09, 2009

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 (STS) -127 is going to deliver the final components of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station. The mission will also include five spacewalks and the installation of platforms outside the Japanese module. STS-127 is the 127th space shuttle flight, the 29th to the international space station, the 23rd for Endeavor overall and the third of 2009.

Launch Window:  NASA announced 7:39 p.m. July 11 as the planned launch date for STS-127. 
Launch Slip Opportunities:  24- or 48-hour scrub possible
Landing:  Duration of the STS-127 mission is 16 days after launch.

NORAD Launch Support
NORAD will provide fighter aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, enforcing the FAA established Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) around the Kennedy Space Center.

Launch Contingency Support

USNORTHCOM provides Joint Task Force-Space Transportation System, responsible for search and rescue of the astronauts and recovery of the orbiter throughout launch, on-orbit and landing.  In cooperation with NASA, U.S. Strategic Command and Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group at Patrick AFB, Fla., JTF-STS has developed plans to locate and retrieve the astronauts if they have a launch emergency and 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 conduct search and rescue operations.  For STS-127, the following Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security assets are supporting the mission:

  • U.S. Air Force Reserve HH-60 helicopters supported by U.S. Air Force Reserve with Air National Guard aircrew, doctors, and pararescuemen.
  • Air National Guard, USAFR, and U.S. Marine corps HC/MC-130s supported by U.S. Air Force Reserve with U.S. Air National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps personnel. 
  • The United States 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 United States Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall AFB, Fla., will also be in direct support to Commander of U.S. Northern Command.

Launch Abort Sites (LAS) and East Coast Launch Abort Landing Sites (ECALS)
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-127.  These bases lie near the intended flight path for STS-127: 

  • Atlantic City International Airport, N.J.
  • Oceana Naval Air Station, Va.
  • Dover Air Force Base, Del.  
  • Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
  • F. S. Gabreski Airport, N.Y.
  • 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-127.  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 USNORTHCOM’s role supporting USSTRATCOM’s mission of Defense Support for Manned Space Flight Operations.