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News | April 2, 2010

NORAD and USNORTHCOM support Space Shuttle launch

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command provide support to NASA and the shuttle program’s mission with distinctly different but important missions.

NORAD—the bi-national command responsible for air defense of the North American air space—is ensuring airspace safety and security for the Space Transportation System -131 launch and landing, providing air patrols to enforce the Federal Aviation Administration’s Temporary Flight Restriction zones over the space shuttle and along its flight path. NORAD support will consist of fighter planes and U.S. Coast Guard helicopters enforcing the TFR.

The FAA flight restriction (depicted in illustration attached to this release), and the associated Notice to Airmen can be viewed in its entirety by linking to the FAA’s Web site at

NORAD is also prepared to respond to any shuttle emergency by securing the airspace over necessary Launch Abort Sites should emergency landing be required.

The safety and security of North American airspace remains NORAD's prime mission. The command retains a robust air defense posture to maintain air sovereignty over the continental U.S., Alaska and Canada. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Continental U.S. NORAD Region fighters have responded to more than 2,350 possible air threats in the United States and have flown more than 55,000 sorties (refueling, Airborne Warning and Control System, etc.) in support of Operation Noble Eagle.

U.S. Northern Command is the lead U.S. Department of Defense organization responsible for military incident support to the space shuttle. Support includes astronaut search and rescue as well as orbiter salvage and recovery. USNORTHCOM, established in 2002 and fully operational Sept. 11, 2003, coordinates U.S. military efforts to assist the space shuttle astronauts in the event of an emergency. USNORTHCOM will command and control DOD forces in the event of an emergency mainly through Air Forces Northern, which forms the core of Joint Task Force –Space Transportation System, commanded by U. S. Air Force Col. Scott Barberides.

AFNORTH is made up of operations, information command and control specialists, and support personnel who understand, focus and employ DOD’s unique capabilities. AFNORTH works with NASA, DOD installations, the U.S. military services and other U.S. government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard to accomplish the mission. More than 400 DOD personnel are ready to support the mission, with 13 members of AFNORTH on location in Florida monitoring and providing command and control of DOD forces. A complete list of DOD forces tasked to AFNORTH can be obtained from AFNORTH’s Public Affairs personnel, who are located at the NASA Media Services Center and the Morrell Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the launch.

The mission of USNORTHCOM is homeland defense and defense support of civil authorities. The command conducts operations to deter, prevent, defeat and mitigate threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories and interests within the assigned area of responsibility. Also, as directed by the President or Secretary of Defense, USNORTHCOM provides military assistance to civil authorities including consequence management operations.

Launch Facts

The mission of Space Transportation System (STS) -131 is to carry a multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks for the laboratories aboard the International Space Station. STS-131 is the 131st space shuttle flight, the 33rd to the International Space Station, and the 38th for Discovery.

Launch Window: NASA announced 6:21 a.m. April 5 as the planned launch time for STS-131.
Launch Slip Opportunities: 24- or 48-hour scrub possible
Landing: Duration of the STS-131 mission is 13 days after launch.

NORAD Launch Support

NORAD will provide fighter aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, enforcing the FAA established Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) around the Kennedy Space Center.

Launch Contingency Support

USNORTHCOM provides Joint Task Force-Space Transportation System, responsible for search and rescue of the astronauts and recovery of the orbiter throughout launch, on-orbit and landing. In cooperation with NASA, U.S. Strategic Command and Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group at Patrick AFB, Fla; JTF-STS has developed plans to locate and retrieve the astronauts during a launch emergency in which the astronauts are forced to bailout of the space shuttle as well as contingencies on their return for landing. Numerous Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard aircraft and Coast Guard ships are pre-positioned or on standby to quickly conduct search and rescue operations. For STS-131, the following Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security assets are supporting the mission:

  • U.S. Air Force Reserve HH-60 helicopters supported by U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard aircrew, doctors, and active duty pararescuemen.

  • Air National Guard, USAFR, and U.S. Marine corps HC/KC-130s supported by U.S. Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and active-duty pararescue personnel.

  • The United States Navy’s Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Center at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., and Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Center and Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va., and the United States Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall AFB, Fla., will also be in direct support to Commander of U.S. Northern Command.

    Launch Abort Sites (LAS) and East Coast Launch Abort Landing Sites (ECALS)

    Additionally, U.S. military units at the following Shuttle Launch Abort Sites are on alert to support an emergency landing during the launch phase for STS-131. These bases lie near the intended flight path for STS-131:

    U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Mass.
    Oceana Naval Air Station, Va.
    Dover Air Force Base, Del.
    Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.F.S.
    Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.

    DOD Augmented/Emergency Landing Sites

    If the shuttle experiences an on-orbit emergency and has to land immediately, NASA has established several civilian and military landing sites around the world. US military personnel at the following locations are prepared to support an emergency landing of the shuttle:

    Augmented Sites: While the Primary Landing Site is Kennedy Space Center, Fla., alternate DOD Augmented Landing Sites at Edwards AFB, Calif., and White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., can be quickly readied to support a shuttle landing with an on-scene commander, fire/crash/rescue forces, and medical evacuation capabilities.

    Emergency Landing Sites: These locations are strategically located around the world in the flight path of STS-131. They have runways long enough for the shuttle and have compatible navigation aids. The following Emergency Landing Sites are located within the United States:

    USCG Air Station Cape Cod, Mass.
    MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. (ECALS)
    Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
    MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
    China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, Calif.
    Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho
    Dover Air Force Base, Del. (ECALS)
    Oceana Naval Air Station, Va. (ECALS)
    Dyess Air Force Base, Texas
    Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.
    Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H. (ECALS)
    Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska
    Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
    White Sands Space Harbor, N.M.
    Kennedy Space Center
    Edwards AFB, Calif.

    The emergency recovery sites only have the minimum number of people needed to assist the astronauts, and will respond to a shuttle landing as they would for any large aircraft emergency landing.

    Alternate Landing Sites

    The shuttle is expected to return to Kennedy Space Center on or about 13 days after launch and DOD support will be provided from Patrick AFB, Fla., Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and USNORTHCOM Headquarters at Peterson AFB, Colo. However, alternate landing sites at Edwards AFB, Calif., and Holloman AFB/White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., can be quickly readied to support a shuttle landing.

    Additional USNORTHCOM Support

    Air Forces Northern serves as the operational level focal point for situational understanding and crisis response to space shuttle mission contingencies. Additionally, AFNORTH will work in concert with Deputy DOD Manager, DOD Manned Space Flight Support Office, Joint Forces Land Component Commander, Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander, Joint Forces Air Component Commander and the United States Coast Guard, as necessary, to execute USNORTHCOM’s role supporting USSTRATCOM’s mission of Defense Support for Manned Space Flight Operations.