Science and Technology News

Monday, December 2, 2013

Team Dover delivers next generation weather satellite

by By Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

11/27/2013 - Dover Air Force Base, Del.  -- A new satellite that will help meteorologists track storms in North America got a step closer to orbit when a Team Dover C-5M Super Galaxy aircrew from the 512th Airlift Wing delivered it to Kitakyushu Airport, Japan, Nov. 24 .

Jean Manall, NASA project support transportation manager, said it was no easy task but the Air Force Reserve Airmen performed admirably in transporting the 57,000 pound Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite and its container.

The crew was composed of pilots, flight engineers and loadmasters from the 709th Airlift Squadron and crew chiefs from the 512th Maintenance Group.

Air Force Reserve Master Sergeant Jeremy Lee, 709th AS loadmaster, was a member on two previous test loads to ensure the C-5M was up to the task.

"The weight combined with the size was going to present some challenges," said the Cuba, N.Y., native. "My biggest concern was the top clearance. At some points during the load there would be only be about an inch of clearance. We had to take it slow to ensure we didn't damage the equipment or the aircraft."

With 5,600 flight hours as a loadmaster, Lee's experience was vital to the loading of the satellite at Joint Base Andrews, Md. The delicate operation took eight hours as the satellite was winched inch-by-inch slowly into the aircraft.

Loadmasters worked hand-in-hand with NASA engineers during the load. Even though the two groups used different terminology, it didn't take long for them to get on the same sheet of music, said Lee. Once the satellite was in place in the cargo compartment, great attention was paid to ensuring it was properly secured.

Lee said if the satellite would have broken loose it would have been a catastrophic event for the aircraft and the aircrew.

This called for a steady hand at the controls during flight, said Capt. Todd Mullen, 709th AS pilot and mission commander.

"The delicacy of the cargo required stable flying and very smooth landings," he said. "It was definitely one of the more unique missions I have ever been a part of."

According to NASA, the Global Precipitation Measurement mission is an international network of satellites that provide the next-generation global observations of rain and snow. Building upon the success of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, the GPM concept centers on the deployment of a core satellite carrying an advanced radar/radiometer system to measure precipitation from space and serve as a reference standard to unify precipitation measurements from a constellation of research and operational satellites. Through improved measurements of precipitation globally, the mission will help to advance understanding of Earth's water and energy cycle and improve forecasting of extreme events that cause natural hazards and disasters.

In addition to being heavy and large, the satellite also required the aircraft to be powered at all times, because the cargo compartment had to be climate controlled.

After being diverted to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the flying crew chiefs were required to stay with the aircraft for 12-hour shifts to keep the aircraft powered while the mission was delayed two days due to weather.

Senior Airman Kristy Foley, 512th MXG crew chief, said the extra hours were hard but worth it in the end.

"I just have the mindset of doing whatever needs to be done to complete the mission," said the West Grove, Pa., native. "This was an interesting mission for everyone involved because of the extra communication needed with the NASA personnel and the extra hours everybody put in."

It was the first ever mission for Senior Airman Travis Shea,709th AS loadmaster student. He said it was a great way to start off his career as a loadmaster.

"It was a great learning opportunity and just an awesome experience," said the native of Aiea, Hawaii. "That was interesting to watch, but I was more interested in watching the loadmasters and learning as much as I could. It just reinforced to me that I picked the right unit to join."

Lee said the one variable that worried him was the flight line in Japan and he was relieved when there were no issues unloading the satellite.

"I was probably happier than the NASA people when we safely unloaded," he said. "I am really proud of our team and I think we worked well together and overcame a lot of obstacles."

The satellite is scheduled to be launched in late February.

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