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Citizen Airmen support successful Falcon 9 NROL-76 launch

Citizen Airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, support a SpaceX launch from Kennedy Space Center (Courtesy photo)

Citizen Airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, support a SpaceX launch from Kennedy Space Center (Courtesy photo)

The 45th Space Wing supported SpaceX's successful launch of the NROL-76 spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center May 1 at 7:15 a.m. ET. This launch was SpaceX's first for the National Reconnaissance Office. (Photo by Michael Seeley)

The 45th Space Wing supported SpaceX's successful launch of the NROL-76 spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center May 1 at 7:15 a.m. ET. This launch was SpaceX's first for the National Reconnaissance Office. (Photo by Michael Seeley)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter hurries to recover a patient, March 3, 2017, at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Idaho, during pre-deployment training for the 305th Rescue Squadron. The 305th RQS, located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., is conducting training at the Idaho Air National Guard’s Orchard Combat Training Center, a 143,000-acre live-fire range located south of Boise, Idaho, to hone all of their search and rescue procedures before heading to Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jared Trimarchi)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter hurries to recover a patient, March 3, 2017, at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Idaho, during pre-deployment training for the 305th Rescue Squadron. The 305th RQS, located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., is conducting training at the Idaho Air National Guard’s Orchard Combat Training Center, a 143,000-acre live-fire range located south of Boise, Idaho, to hone all of their search and rescue procedures before heading to Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jared Trimarchi)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Citizen Airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing cleared the Eastern Test Range in support of SpaceX’s successful launch of the NROL-76 spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center May 1 at 7:15 a.m. ET.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched with a classified national security payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office after Air Force Reservists ensured the path beneath the rocket's path was all clear. This was SpaceX’s first launch for the NRO. The Airmen launched on an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter an hour before liftoff to ensure safety and security of the Atlantic Ocean just beneath the rocket's path to space. Another helicopter crew remained on standby at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

This launch marked the third launch to use the Autonomous Flight Safety System and the fourth successful landing of the Falcon 9 first stage booster on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at CCAFS. AFSS takes ground-based mission flight control personnel and equipment out of the control center and replaces it with on-board Positioning, Navigation and Timing sources and decision logic. The benefits of AFSS include increased public safety, reduced reliance on range infrastructure, reduced range spacelift cost, increased schedule predictability and availability, operational flexibility, and launch site flexibility.

The Falcon 9 NROL-76 launch was the seventh major launch operation for the Eastern Range this year. Before any launch can blast off from the range, a dedicated team of military, government civilians and contractors from across the wing provide the mission assurance to ensure a safe and successful lift-off for range customers.

"We continue to play a vital role in assuring access to space and this launch demonstrates our capability to keep up the pace as we move closer to our goal of 48 launches a year,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander. “It takes less than a minute to get a rocket safely out of our atmosphere, but this launch was the culmination of many long hours and preparation though a series of rigorous rehearsals, readiness reviews and pre-operational checkouts. This mission once again clearly demonstrates the successful collaboration we have with our mission partners at NRO and SpaceX as we continue to shape the future of America’s space operations and showcase why the 45th Space Wing is the ‘World's Premiere Gateway to Space.’”

Editor's note: Some information from this article was compiled from a 45th Space Wing news release.