TEHACHAPI, Calif. --
Although at first glance, watching students fly gliders over the mountains of California may not personify the idea of space test, however, the key test fundamentals they learn are universal.
Students from the United States Air Force Test Pilot School Space Test Fundamentals Course Class 21-2 gathered at Mountain Valley Airport’s glider school in Tehachapi, Calif., June 3, 2021, to strengthen their understanding of time-compressed data collection practices in unfamiliar environments.
To begin the three-month STF program, students from multiple branches and professions complete Introduction Test Fundamentals, which covers a completely domain and system agnostic approach to testing. The course enables the United States Space Force to enhance its Test and Evaluation mission and multiply its ability to deliver combat-ready space forces.
“The testing that we have done today has given us a different platform to do testing that we don’t normally see in Space,” said Capt. Anna Rowe, a student attending the course from Space Delta 7’s 71st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron Detachment 9, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. “There’s even more versatility to it and allowed us to do applicable test data that we can transfer into Space Test and Evaluation.”
In the day’s exercise in the air, the students grouped in to teams to determine the best course of action to collect data points.
“We figured out what speeds we wanted to collect data at. So, once we hit speed with the correct spoiler configuration, we started a stopwatch,” said Rowe. “We would then descend 200 feet, click the stopwatch again, record the data and move on to the next point. We were able to figure out lift over drag versus velocity.”
Dr. Andrew Freeborn, the USAF TPS’s STF course director explained that when testing, not only in orbit, there can be a time element to collecting data.
“You have to have everything prepped so when that window hits, you’re ready to go right now,” said Freeborn. “The idea of the exercise is to put a little bit of pressure on the students, regardless of their background, in an unfamiliar environment, and be able to collect data when you’re uncomfortable, with a time compression, and still get something good out of it.”
For Captain Christopher Duncan, the STFC’s first Army student and current Commander of Headquarters Company, 2nd Space Battalion at Fort Carson, Colo., the key takeaway revolved around developing realistic methodologies done to a standard.
“If the test is figuring out glide ratios under different conditions for the aircraft, none of that information will be novel or new,” said Duncan. “What is novel and new is using metrics and standards that are achievable, not overly aggressive and standardized so they can be applied universally across tests.”
Duncan hopes the course will allow him to bring the Army some new approaches to testing space.
“As the Army looks to get in to low-earth orbit or bring other space capabilities to the warfighter, I’m hoping to gain a level of expertise from this course that can be applied at the broadest levels so, moving forward, we can integrate developmental test and operational test in a manner that’s both rapid and relevant, but also rigorous and thorough,” he said.
The experience is also one the TPS hopes will stay with them throughout their career.
“It’s also a little bit of the learning law of intensity,” said Freeborn. “It’s an intense experience, something they are going to remember, so when they are back at their home units trying to collect data, they go ‘Hey, I remember that experience. I have to have all this prep done so that I can get my data on time.’”
The remainder of the course will continue to leverage world-class USAF TPS expertise and is designed to provide hands-on training in test fundamentals, systems test, space-science application, advanced space system test and evaluation, and broad exposure to the foremost centers of space operations and testing.
For more information on the Space Test Fundamentals Course and how to apply, keep an eye on the TPS web page at https://www.edwards.af.mil/Units/USAFTPS/