By Senior Airman Naomi Griego
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 2nd and 19th Space Operations Squadrons accepted satellite control authority of GPS IIF-9 Satellite Vehicle Number-71 April 3 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
What appeared to some as another routine scene in the 2 SOPS conference room was really history in the making. Representatives from the Space and Missile Systems Center, 14th Air Force and the 50th Space Wing, including 2 and 19 SOPS commanders, connected through a teleconference to formally accept command and control of the latest GPS satellite launched in orbit March 25 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“Ownership has been transferred from the developers to the operators,” said Lt. Col. Todd Benson, 2 SOPS commander. “We’ll continue with more on orbit checkup. Soon, we’ll set the vehicle ‘healthy to all users,’ which means the general populace can start using it.”
This launch marked nearly 40 satellites in the constellation’s medium Earth orbit.
“We’re improving civilian applications and the capabilities for the warfighter so they have a much more reliable GPS signal,” said Lt. Col. Sam Baxter, 19 SOPS commander.
Needless to say, the squadrons remain gainfully employed operating the constellation that provides more than 3 billion users with precision timing which enables time stamp for ATM transactions and stock market exchanges, as well as directions around and for the world and countless other applications.
“We have to continually replenish our constellation,” added Benson. “We’re building a more robust constellation with each addition.”
Col. Bill Liquori, 50 SW commander added, “The continued growth and improvements are a testament to the strong partnership between the operators, the professionals at the Space and Missile System Center and the industry partners who build the satellites.”
Benson and Baxter agreed this is due to the significance GPS contributes to the world.
“We’re launching at such quick succession because the satellites are available,” Benson said. “The acquisition to delivery time frame is a lengthy process so timing is important.”
And for good reason. One satellite can cost upwards of $245 million. But the return on investment is worth it, according to Baxter and Benson.
“The oldest satellite in orbit is 24 years old and its life span was only anticipated for seven and a half years,” said Benson.
The units spend months in advance prepping for this transfer which is anticipated to occur three more times this year. The uniqueness of the partnership between active-duty 2 SOPS and Reserve 19 SOPS is one that compliments the other with continuity in experience.
If you’re worried about having nearly four dozen satellites in orbit, don’t. Benson said there’s no need to fret about running out of space in this orbit because it’s not too crowded.
Both commanders were impressed with the effort and outcome of the launch and transfer of authority.
They said the team makes it look easy.
“Watching how smooth an operation is, on such a complex endeavor, is impressive,” said Baxter. “When you think of the global impact of what we’re doing and how complicated it is, it’s really an impressive sight to see.”
They are launching four spacecraft a year which is pretty unheard of for most space units.
“To be in a unit that gets to experience a true cradle to grave experience with a satellite is unreal,” he added. “Our career field is involved in everything from launches to disposals and all operations in between.”
As receiver technology improves, devices are becoming smaller, and more powerful, and the excitement lies, according to Benson, in seeing what people will come up with next,
“Sky’s the limit in what people want to build with it,” he said.