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WALLOPS ISLAND — As Thanksgiving drew near in 2013, the Research Range Services (RRS) team had much to be thankful for. After a long and challenging journey, the Operationally Responsive Space-3 (ORS-3) mission was launched into the night sky on Nov. 20, 2013, carrying the STP-SAT-3 payload, along with a near record-breaking 29 CubeSat sub-payloads.

The road to this successful launch took many twists and turns, both during the planning phase and during the launch itself. In September 2013, rumors of government sequestration began swirling around the water-cooler, but no one was sure if it would actually happen or not, so the team continued to prepare for the launch in the hope that things would be worked out.

On October 1, 2013, the rumor became a reality and the RRS team was told to stand down on all but critical operations, which, unfortunately, did not include ORS- 3. All work to support the mission was suspended until sequestration was resolved, at which point the RRS team coordinated with the Range user and other agencies to determine the best path forward to launch the rocket.

With sequestration behind the team and a new launch date established, the RRS team ran into another challenge in competing for support assets with the Eastern Range. Two other missions that shared instrumentation with ORS-3 were competing for similar launch windows. After much negotiation with our partners on the Eastern Range, a priority order with several contingency options was established. Luckily, the priority mission at the time was able to launch on its first attempt, which gave the “green light” for ORS-3 to press forward with its schedule and the team soon found itself on console and counting down to zero.

The fun, however, did not end once the team arrived on console! As the count progressed, several gremlins worked their way into the deployed systems, keeping RRS personnel on their toes throughout the night. Communication and coordination were critical to ensuring troubleshooting was completed in a timely manner and all parties maintained good situational awareness. The greatest challenge occurred when a part broke on one of the systems at the downrange sites in such a way that it could not support the launch. This piece of instrumentation was mission critical – we could not fly without it – and after some troubleshooting, the team realized that there were no on-site replacement spares. The RRS team back at Wallops coordinated with Range Safety to re-purpose one of the surveillance planes and turn it into a transport aircraft. An RRS engineer boarded the plane with spare parts, flew down to the deployed site in Coquina, N.C., dropped off the parts, and immediately returned to Wallops. The team had managed to repair the system while the engineer was en route, but it was determined that the extra spares would benefit the deployed team in case of another failure.

Once the system was repaired, a new launch time was coordinated and the team was able to successfully support a spectacular launch from Pad 0B. This mission would not have been possible without the dedication and flexibility of the entire RRS team. Despite the many challenges both during the planning phase and during the launch count itself, the team was able to work together to bring about a successful conclusion to months of hard work.

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