Launches from Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Space Force Station require safe land, ocean and air space, and that means the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Space Force Base goes to work.
The Eastern Range includes 10,000 miles that need protection from spacecraft or their debris, spreading from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center across the Atlantic past the tip of Africa and the Indian Ocean.
“Air surveillance to make sure commercial aircraft are clear of restricted areas during launch countdowns, as well as weather forecasts, is coordinated by the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing. Waters within the launch safety zone are patrolled jointly by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Air Force,” Anita Barrett wrote in an online 2009 description of the Eastern Range on Kennedy Space Center’s website.
The companion Western Range begins at the Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California and passes south along the western U.S. coast west through the Pacific into the Indian Ocean where it meets the Eastern Range. The Air Force’s 30th Space Wing there manages safety for launches going west. Both ranges share safety policies and processes.
The Eastern Range includes seven downrange owned or leased facilities used to track both rockets and weather. Range users can include the U.S. Department of Defense, non-defense U.S. agencies, licensed civilian commercial companies such as SpaceX, and some approved foreign governments.
“Safety is extremely important throughout the 45th Space Wing,” said Jay Porter, Chief of 45th Space Wing Public Affairs. “One of the most vital aspects of our wing’s mission of assured access to space is the assurance that when a rocket leaves from the Eastern Range, range personnel and Space Coast residents are as safe as possible.”
The national range system was set up during the 1940s to provide a site for long-range missile tests over relatively uninhabited land areas and free of global shipping lanes. Its purpose, according to the 1999 written “Eastern and Western Range Safety Policies and Processes” is to “ensure that the general public, launch area personnel, foreign land masses, and launch area resources are provided an acceptable level of safety and that all aspects of pre launch and launch operations adhere to public laws and national needs.”
In the 1990s, the Eastern Range’s Antigua and Ascension auxiliary air bases were modernized with fiber-optic communications, radar and telemetry equipment to create a new control center.
Acting Patrick Air Force Base Commander Col. Brande H. Walton has final authority over the Eastern Range. A Space Wing chief of safety enforces life, health and property public safety requirements.
In a recent 45th Space Wing video, Tech. Sgt. Scott Hewlett, said, “Our role in spacecraft flight is to provide 100 percent surveillance and security on national space launch missions…. No mistakes can be afforded…. We’re the insurance.”