Reservists support historic launch, landing of rocket
By Master Sgt. Paul Flipse, 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 22, 2015
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Helicopter aircrews from the 920th Rescue Wing held their hover near Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station while a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted skyward at 8:29 p.m. Dec. 21.
On board the Falcon were 11 communications satellites, which were to be placed into low-Earth orbit (LEO) (between 99 - 1,200 miles up). Normally, once that task was done, so was the life of the rocket.
But not this time. This time, there would be a slight change.
Which is how it came to be that, after setting the satellites adrift in low-Earth orbit, the Falcon 9 made a U-turn. Moments later, the rocket reappeared in the muggy Florida night, orientated itself toward Landing Zone 1 (former Launch Complex 13), and proceeded to execute a perfect vertical landing back at the Cape a mere 10 minutes after liftoff.
SpaceX had been trying to engineer rockets to be reusable launch systems for some time but was never able to produce a successful landing. And the launch itself marked the first for the company since June, a Falcon 9 had exploded in mid-air two minutes after liftoff from the Cape.
The launch, satellite deployment and safe return of the Falcon 9 marks the first time in history a large-scale rocket was able to return safely to Earth after performing a mission.
As part of an integrated team, 920th Airmen launch in two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter several hours prior to every Space Coast rocket launch to clear civilian and commercial marine traffic from the launch trajectory are, which extends roughly 80 miles east from the shores of Cape Canaveral.
The wing's primary mission is combat search and rescue (CSAR), which includes rescuing servicemembers trapped and/or wounded behind enemy lines. Additionally, the wing performs civil search and rescue and humanitarian relief.
Since being activated in 1956, the 920th Rescue Wing has saved roughly 4,000 lives, including more than 850 combat rescues. It is the only CSAR unit in the Air Force Reserve.