ARLINGTON, Va. – A rocket carrier is barely recognizable from a distance on a typically foggy June morning at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
Its payload, the German Ministry of Defense’s SARah satellite, was delivered thanks to Herculean cross-country coordination by National Guard Soldiers and Airmen.
As it lifts off, the rumbling from the fiery exhaust quickly builds momentum, pushing the rocket upward. Within minutes, it pierces the clouds into space, eventually deploying the SARah into its orbit.
The successful launch marked the culmination of a journey that began more than three weeks earlier in Germany, where the satellite made its way via a cargo ship to the Port of Baltimore. From there, the SARah crossed nine states to Vandenberg SFB – all with the help of the National Guard.
“The connections and capabilities the National Guard possess allows our Soldiers and Airmen to effectively execute complex coordination efforts that enable us to help our communities, allies and partners in times of need,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Upon arriving in Baltimore, shipping specialists determined the 4-ton satellite would require an oversized and overweight trailer. This meant the logistics provider would have to iron out the details of obtaining required transportation permits, which vary state-to-state.
Working with the National Guard Coordination Center, Guard operations directorates from the nine states helped secure the permits in a timely manner, said Army Col. Kurt A. Rorvik, chief of the operations directorate at the National Guard Bureau.
“As a result of these collective efforts across the National Guard, the German SARah satellite was ready for its planned launch date, allowing a U.S. ally to deploy its satellite into space,” he said.
SARah was to be transported to California on a Ukrainian commercial cargo plane. Due to the ongoing conflict there, those types of planes became unavailable, leaving German defense officials scrambling for transportation alternatives.
Realizing the Germans were likely to miss their June 18 launch date and possibly hinder their operational requirements, U.S. Space Force officials found the solution in the Guard.
"In discussions with our German Space Command partners on the alternatives to get SARah to the launch sites, we realized they would need assistance getting all the state-by-state permits approved to make this possible in just a matter of days,” said Garrett Haslem, associate director of global partnerships for the U.S. Space Force. “[The National Guard’s] unique support enabled the U.S. Space Force and one of our closest international partners to demonstrate responsive space launch during a crisis, avoiding significant delays."
Delivering the satellite in one week also meant Guard officials had to coordinate safe and timely passage through the participating states.
In Virginia, Rorvik said Guard members quickly developed alternate routes due to construction on a major interstate. In turn, North Carolina National Guard officials established their own routes based off where the transportation provider was coming from in the north.
Because of this coordination, Rorvik said the first couple days of the coast-to-coast trip was a “very seamless process.”
Yet challenges would still present themselves as some days later, the transportation provider would have to contend with wildfires raging in New Mexico.
“Our team maintained continuous contact with the [transportation provider] and provided them daily updates of the travel path and any issues that could impede their travel,” said Rorvik, adding that state police were also instrumental in making the trip a safe one.
Rorvik said the Guard coordination center exists especially for domestic events, ensuring that state Guard elements have what they need to carry out a mission.
“All in all, this was one of the most impactful and unifying team efforts that we’ve been a part of in the NGB operations directorate – working with the states for such an important outcome,” he said, “and it really demonstrates the ingenuity and teamwork involved by our dedicated Soldiers and Airmen to accomplish the mission.”