Cape Canaveral AFS busy launching rockets

Behind-the-scenes tour of Air Force base

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Despite the end of the space shuttle program, the Cape Canaveral Air Force station is busier than it has ever been.

[MORE VIDEO:  Launches continue despite end of space shuttle program]

When most people think rockets, they think NASA. But in reality, the Cape Canaveral Air Force station does most of the rocket launching. In fact, the AFS ultimately gave the go or no-go for space shuttle launches up until the program ended in 2011.

"So many people say those kinds of things, thinking that the Space Coast is now in its utter demise because the shuttle program has retired," said Brig. Gen. Anthony Cotton, commander of the 45th Space Wing. "What the Wing is here to tell you, that's absolutely not true."

The AFS controls the "Eastern Range," 15 million square miles of mostly water where rockets will pass over from launch pad to orbit. Air Force officers and civilians are responsible for making sure the range is clear of boats and planes, making sure the weather is good and tracking the rocket safely into orbit.

During today's tour, Cotton showed off sophisticated weather and tracking technology that the Air Force uses to deliver safe launches. Lightning detection technology is essential, and most launch pads are also equipped with lightning deterrent technology, such as lightning rods.

The Air Force is tentatively scheduled to launch 15 rockets this year from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

"Our manifest is full, our manifest is strong, we're launching rockets from the Space Coast," Cotton said. "The Space Coast will always be the Space Coast. The Eastern Range is a national asset, and will always be a national asset."

Currently, Space X is assembling its Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 40, which it leases from the Air Force. The Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch March 1 to resupply the International Space Station. Space X made history last year as the first-ever commercial company to resupply the ISS.

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 is currently being readied at Launch Complex 41. The Atlas 5 is scheduled for launch January 29 with a communications and data relay satellite for NASA.

"So folks, bottom line, control of the battlefield does start here. Those 10,000 men and women who support the 45th Space Wing couldn't be more proud of the mission they accomplish here," Cotton said.

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