Air University Press releases single-volume overview of AF’s space launch support

  • Published
  • Air University Press

Air University Press releases Assured Access: A History of the United States Air Force Space Launch Enterprise, 1945–2020, by Dr. David N. Spires, senior instructor emeritus in the department of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder specializing in space, military and German history, and who, during his military career, taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Assured Access surveys more than six decades of Air Force launch support for the nation’s military, intelligence and civilian space communities. It meets the need of a single-volume overview of the Air Force space launch story, serving as a guide and introduction with a focus on the operational aspect of space launch.

From their inception as refurbished ballistic missiles, Air Force boosters have launched national security space payloads for the DOD and the National Reconnaissance Office as well as for NASA and commercial and other civilian elements. The basic technology that had produced the expendable launch space boosters of the early Cold War era changed little in fundamental engineering and manufacturing processes from that period until the advent of the evolved expendable launch vehicle, or EELV, program at the turn of the new century.

Expendable launch vehicles had been the backbone of Air Force space flight until the arrival of the space shuttle, with its promise of routine access to space. By the early 1980s, that promise had become increasingly problematical as space shuttle development and launch rate promises failed to meet projected targets.

After 1986, in the wake of the Challenger disaster, the Air Force saw in the EELV families of Delta IV and Atlas V boosters the prospect of responsive, reliable and affordable space launch. Although the EELV program largely achieved those objectives, new competition from SpaceX and other providers created an altered landscape of more efficient launch systems and reusable and partially reusable boosters.

The EELV program gave way to the National Security Space Launch program. The emphasis on more responsive space launches to confront a growing threat to U.S. space assets also embraced the small rocket efforts of the Rocket Systems Launch Program. Together, the National Security Space Launch program and Rocket Systems Launch Program promise assured access to space well into the future.

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