Magazine article National Defense

Space Research Wing Is Small but Has Big Dreams

Magazine article National Defense

Space Research Wing Is Small but Has Big Dreams

Article excerpt

WITH 215 PEOPLE AND A $190 million budget, the Space Development and Test Wing is small by Air Force standards. But its gung-ho culture makes it ideal for acting as the "connective tissue" between scientists and acquisitions commands, says CoI. Kevin McLaughlin, commander of the wing and director of the operationally responsive space office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

"We have the same competencies that those large wings do. We're just building smaller things that are more of a leading-edge technology," he explains.

One of his initiatives is to provide increasingly rapid and low-cost access to space via the wing's launch and satellite operations.

In March, a mission called Space Test Program One launched and carried a secondary payload adapter technology into orbit. Called the ESPA ring, the technology allows up to six microsatellites to fit on a piece of metal that sits in between the primary payload and its rocket.

"It's a way to get free launches for small experiments that otherwise have trouble paying to get up to orbit," says McLaughlin.

The wing is also in the process of acquiring a key piece of technology integral to the ESPA ring. The standard interface vehicle, a bus which sustains a satellite's operations with solar power, attitude control and communications system, enables a small payload to be integrated on board quickly and inexpensively.

"Those things are going to reduce the barrier of entry for smaller entities that in many cases are quite innovative. They can get their products up into orbit to see how they work, whereas before, they never could afford to fly," says McLaughlin.

The Space Test Group has a program that uses retired intercontinental ballistic missile rocket motors for launching research and development space systems, says CoI. Samuel McCraw, commander of the group.

"We launch satellites into space cheaper than anybody else in the world can do," says McLaughlin. …

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