STC completes most rigorous capstone event yet featuring multi-domain assets

  • Published
  • By Jessica Peterson
  • 412th Test Wing

The latest iteration of the Space Test Course, class 23-1, at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School recently completed their capstone exercise, the course’s most rigorous and comprehensive yet.

With a goal of producing adaptive, critical-thinking test professionals to conduct full-spectrum test and evaluation of space weapon systems, the STC at TPS continues to grow and add real-world rigor to the program.

“The capstone exposes space professionals to some of the capabilities within the air domain. Students learn and actually get to practice how to integrate space assets with airborne assets and fighter aircraft, including real-world weapons employment and simulation of search and rescue,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Corey Florendo, USAF TPS F-16 Instructor Pilot.

As DoD systems become more complex, graduates of both TPS and STC must understand capabilities from various domains (air, space, cyber, surface, subsurface) and how these capabilities integrate with each other. Florendo has taken the lead on exposing the STC students to the air domain and integration with space assets.

“Learning the capabilities inherent in aerial warfare is the first step in ensuring we have a tightly integrated force that cuts across all of the warfighting domains,” Florendo explained.

The STC capstone utilized commercially available imagery from the Planet Labs SkySat satellites in tandem with a TPS-operated F-16D and a Nellis AFB-based HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopter. The STC class 23-1 students tested targeting, battle damage assessment, and personnel recovery scenarios using cross-domain capabilities. The complexity of the capstone event, requiring the team to time and geo-spatially align multiple overhead, airborne and ground-based assets, required the students to integrate the knowledge, skillset, and mindset they have developed over the past 4 months of the course.

The STC started as a 3-month fundamentals course in 2021 and is set to become a year-long degree-granting program by 2026. The partnership between the Air Force and Space Force was formalized in February 2023 when Space Force Gen. David Thompson, Vice Chief of Space Operations, and Air Force Gen. David Allvin, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, a graduate TPS Class 93B, signed a Memorandum of Agreement between the two sister-services defining roles and responsibilities related to the STC (read the story here).

With the formalization of the STC, Space Force Maj. Stefanie Coward, the first full-time Guardian and STC graduate has joined the TPS staff bringing with her recent USSF test and operational experience.

“Operating in space has always been a challenge, between the rigors of launch and the austerity of the vacuum of space, but it had been mostly benign. That is not the case anymore,” Coward said. “Our adversaries are developing and fielding systems designed to challenge US Space Superiority, so we need to know how our systems can respond. STC aims to prepare testers who can test the limits of a system.”

Since the first STC beta class in 2021, the current STC class 23-1 program has grown to a 5-month course. By next year the program will encompass nearly a year with the STC students completing a 7-month graded course followed by a real-world test program for a customer. With the goal of being a degree-granting program, commensurate with the one-year Flight Test Course at TPS, staff from TPS and STC commercial partner ABSI Aerospace & Defense have continued to grow the course content.

Some notable additions in 2023 include the incorporation of the Generic Robotic On-Orbit Training (GROOT) simulator, development of the school’s small satellite laboratory, and refinement of a launch event to exercise modeling and simulation. Additionally, the STC class 23-1 students also saw a Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) up close during a test campaign inside the Benefield Anechoic Facility on Edwards. The satellite is due to launch later this year and could be an asset that the STC students will be working with during future operations.

“No one wants a conflict, but we need to be prepared for warfare with a near-peer nation. A contest with an advanced adversary will require the full arsenal of the DoD, to include capabilities from various domains in air, space, cyber, surface, subsurface,” Florendo said. “Those multi-domain capabilities all have unique strengths, and just as importantly, unique challenges that professional test pilots and test engineers need to identify and alleviate before a conflict that requires those integrated capabilities. Testers need to ensure the DoD's capabilities are ready to go on night one.”

Note: Watch the Space Test Course Class 23-1 Graduation here.