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Florida Air Guard Receives New Space-Launch Tracking System

By Senior Airman Thomas Kielbasa, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

CLEARWATER, Fla., May 11, 2004 – For nearly half a century, Florida has been at the forefront of space-launch technology, and recently the state's Air National Guard acquired new equipment to help maintain that distinction.

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Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett (left) gives the keys of a new Ballistic Missile Range Safety Technology system to Staff Sgt. Kristian Kobilis (right) of the 114th Combat Communications Squadron during a ceremony in Clearwater, Fla., April 30. The new system - used to track space vehicles during launch - will enable the 114th Combat Communications Squadron and 114th Range Flight to better monitor rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. Also pictured (center) is 114th commander Lt. Col. Rembert Schofield. Photo by Senior Airman Thomas Kielbasa, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

On April 30 members of the Florida Air National Guard received a state-of-the- art mobile system designed to monitor space-vehicle launches from Cape Canaveral. The Ballistic Missile Range Safety Technology, or BMRST, system will enable the citizen-airmen to track and if necessary assist in destroying rockets or launch vehicles after liftoff.

Defense contractor Honeywell built the system, the second of its type manufactured and delivered to the Air Force.

During a presentation at the Honeywell plant here, Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett accepted the ceremonial keys to the system from BMRST acquisition manager for the Air Force Dr. Sam Kuennen. The general, in turn, presented the keys to members of the 114th Combat Communications Squadron and 114th Range Flight the two Florida Air National Guard units that will use the new system.

The BMRST system consists of a control center van and two trailer-mounted tracking antennas. All data processing and range safety displays are housed in the control center; the antennas are designed to receive data from launched rockets and space vehicles and transmit the information back to the control center. From the control center, the airmen will also be able to assist in destroying an off-course rocket or launch vehicle for safety reasons.

The manpower of the 114th Range Flight and the 114th Combat Communications Squadron will be combined into the Air National Guard's first range operations support squadron.

Lt. Col. Rembert Schofield, who will command the squadron, noted the mobile BMRST would be tested at Cape Canaveral during upcoming rocket launches, as well as in "various launch tracking sites along the East Coast."

Schofield explained the Florida Air National Guard units which are able to work hand-in-hand with the active duty Air Force's 45th Space Wing during launches are now even more invaluable to the space program with the addition of the BMRST.

"It has a lot of potential uses from the 45th Space Wing's perspective," Schofield said. "As opposed to keeping a seldom-used tracking site opened and manned year-round, you can use this (mobile) system in place of that, and only use it and pay for it when you need it. So you have a potential savings of $50 or 60 million per year for the 45th Space Wing, and that is significant."

Schofield's units are able to track and assist in a variety of space launches from Cape Canaveral, and past missions have included the Delta II rocket and the space shuttle.

"We can track anything you want. It doesn't matter what it is," Schofield said. "There is absolutely no other National Guard that has the type of mission we do, or even does space-launch tracking. So this is the only space unit in the National Guard."

The 114th Range Flight has been working with a prototype of the BMRST, and last year participated in a joint exercise with the Air Force in Alaska, where they successfully tracked a rocket launch using the BMRST system. Schofield said the addition of the new launch-tracking system to the Air National Guard's capabilities is not only important to Florida, but has a great potential for other state National Guards.

"This obviously means a lot to Florida, but it also has a far-reaching potential for more of the country," Schofield explained. "A lot of the launches coming out of the eastern range go either up the coast or down the coast, and if your (launch) is going up the coast, you could have one of these (BMRST systems) stationed in another state. And another Air National Guard unit could simply pull it out and set it up, participate in a launch, and then shut it down. You wouldn't have to transport it up there, and you don't have to pay a large upkeep.

"This is a big responsibility," he added. "But this is the perfect mission for the Guard."

Schofield said the 114th could be ready to track rocket launches using the new BMRST system as early as mid-May.

(Air Force Senior Airman Thomas Kielbasa is assigned to Florida National Guard public affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageHoneywell technicians demonstrate the control system of the BMRST at the Honeywell plant in Clearwater, Fla. Courtesy photo by James Miesz, Gulf Coast Photo Design   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMaster Sgt. Orazio Longo, Staff Sgt. John Black and Senior Airman Akintunde Akintewe attach an antenna panel during Ballistic Missile Range Safety Technology system training at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Photo by Capt. Lusinda L. Recor, USAF  
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