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Sticking with what works: Cadets and Wing will continue partnership

DIEGO GARCIA, British Indian Ocean Territory – A dome is replaced on a Ground-Based Electro Optical Deep Space Surveillance System located at Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia in the midst of the Indian Ocean. Domes like this one are at the heart of research done in partnership between 21st Operations Group, Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Center, and cadets from the United States Air Force Academy, to possibly expand GEODSS operational parameters. (courtesy photo)

DIEGO GARCIA, British Indian Ocean Territory – A dome is replaced on a Ground-Based Electro Optical Deep Space Surveillance System located at Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia in the midst of the Indian Ocean. Domes like this one are at the heart of research done in partnership between 21st Operations Group, Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Center, and cadets from the United States Air Force Academy, to possibly expand GEODSS operational parameters. (courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 21st Operations Group faced a dilemma, which revolves around increasing Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance Systems mission capabilities during inclement weather. Officials decided the issue warranted further study and reached out to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

USAFA Cadets tested the impact of various wind speeds on the domes and shutters for the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance Systems. The work they did delivered data, which could help determine if the domes could remain open longer in adverse weather, expanding mission capabilities.

"It's a real treat and mission benefit to work with the cadets," said Col. Troy Endicott, 21st OG commander. "Having them solve our complex, technical problems is a testament to USAFA's continued excellence as we seek innovative solutions to make our weapon systems more viable and decisive."

The partnership was a positive one, and in light of the mutually beneficial experience, it is one that will be carried on in future months, said Dr. Chris Randell, lead space enterprise analyst for The MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit company operating multiple federally funded research and development centers. Randell is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and served as chief of curriculum, USAFA Department of Engineering Mechanics. He led the effort to get the two entities together for the research project.

"There were two significant findings from the first round of analysis," Randell said. "First, that there is no risk of a GEODSS dome (detaching) from a tower due to the wind speeds analyzed. Secondly, that additional investigation is warranted in looking at the structure attaching the shutters to the dome." 

The second discovery is what Randell said will carry over to the next phase of research as the shutters may be a weak point in higher winds. To address the issue, Randell is already working with USAFA to bring a couple of departments into the mix to take a closer look.

Plans are under development by Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Center's Space Superiority Systems Directorate, along with the 21st OG that will be passed on to both the Aeronautical Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Departments at the Academy. If things go according to plan the research will begin with the fall term.

"This is a one-two punch to determine if expanding the (operational) limits for GEODSS is warranted," Randell said.

The proposed plan for the Engineering Mechanics cadets is related to analyzing the dome structure. The tests will give insight into what wind forces could create critical stress loads upon the structures. As part of the research, cadets will visit the GEODSS test beds in Yoder, Colorado, with the purpose of attaching instruments to test structures for monitoring wind loads in the vicinity of current operational limits.

For the Aeronautics Engineering Department the plan is to do more wind tunnel testing using scale model GEODSS domes. New models will be 3-D printed with specific detail added to the shutter structure. When the testing is done, results will be compared and briefed 21st OG and SMC/SYG leadership.

"This is an ambitious set of research," Randell said. "The scope must be kept manageable for cadets with already full agendas. Balancing the three pillars of cadet development - leadership, athletics and academics - is never easy."

Once the second phase of research is completed by the cadets, it will be forwarded on to the specific contractors who maintain the GEODSS for compilation and analysis.

"When USAFA is finished with phases one and two, (the contractor) will do the brute force engineering assessment," said James Higgins, chief of Optical Systems, Space Superiority Division. Following documentation, and any operational change suggestions, the results will come back to AFSPC and 21st OG. A fourth stage may be needed if it is discovered that wind loads can be mitigated by small changes to pressure in the domes.

The relationship is a wise use of resources, said Dr. Thomas McLaughlin, director, USAFA Aeronautics Research Center. Such projects amount to win-win situations for everyone involved, giving cadets real world research experience in exchange for thorough research.

"This isn't unique. We are always looking for these types of projects," McLaughlin said. 

Editor's note: This is the final article in a series of stories detailing how the 21st Operations Group, Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Center's Space Superiority Division and the United States Air Force Academy worked together meeting the needs of each, to carry out and improve mission accomplishment.

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