By Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — During a ceremony July 22, 2016 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, the 21st Space Wing stood up the 18th Space Control Squadron.
The 18th SPCS falls under the 21st Operations Group, and assumed the day-to-day Space Situational Awareness and routine satellite catalog maintenance missions from the Joint Space Operations Center, also located at Vandenberg.
The organization responsible for tracking objects in space is now aligned with the units operating the sensors detecting those objects.
When this space control squadron transitioned to the 21st SW, the realignment was realized by joining the tactical command and control organization with the space surveillance network systems. The 18th SPCS’s orbital predictions are key in maintaining space superiority.
“The 18th SPCS is a perfect fit,” said Lt. Col. Marc Brock, 21st OG deputy commander. “We have realized synergies that we hadn’t realized before having only the front line tactical units that detect and track the objects in space. Having both ends of the business inside one organization improves our communication and increases our understanding of each end of the enterprise. It allows us to improve our ability to surveil all objects in space and really understand the space domain.”
The newly aligned squadron processes observations of objects launched into space, currently on orbit or re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere into the satellite catalog they maintain. The observations tally more than 1,400 active objects and 22,000 pieces of debris.
The unit also maintains sensor tasking and calibration, conducts advanced analysis on special events on orbit and leads execution of U.S. Strategic Command’s Space Situational Awareness Sharing Strategy. Furthermore, the 18th SPCS is responsible for maintaining the Space Common Operating Picture and disseminating the SCOP as required.
The 18th SPCS’s satellite catalog is the foundation to ensuring the U.S. can provide the needed space effects to support the joint force and our allies. On a daily basis, the Airmen at the 18th SPCS oversee the safety of the astronauts on the International Space Station by providing warning to NASA of potential collisions with space debris travelling at 17,500 miles per hour, said Lt. Col. Scott Putnam, 18th SPCS commander. They also ensure the safety of satellites owned by the U.S. and foreign governments, as well as, commercial satellites owned and operated by the U.S., foreign and multinational corporations.
The 18th SPCS’s responsibility to carry out their mission require extreme endurance and mental fortitude. As seen by their leadership, holding up and maintaining parts of the space domain carries with it the comparison to amazing efforts.
“I would describe the efforts of the 18th SPCS Airmen to maintain the satellite catalog as herculean,” said Putnam. “Much of the 18th SPCS are first assignment enlisted and officers, and the difficulty of the technical work they perform is extremely high. The amount of responsibility they have is astronomical. As their commander, I’m constantly amazed at the level they perform at, and I’m immensely proud of the professionalism they display on a daily basis.”
Given the global nature of what they do, the sun never sets on the 21st OG, said Brock. In order to ensure space superiority and properly catalogued space assets, there are no days off for the space operators and tacticians of the 21st OG and the 18th SPCS.
“From GPS providing navigation and timing services to remote sensing satellites that allow us to understand our planet, all the way to satellite communications that bring our world together, space assets are integral to our modern way of life,” said Putnam. “As Gene Kranz, (Apollo 13 Mission Control director), once famously stated, ‘failure is not an option,’ and that is true for the mission of the 18th SPCS.”
Though failure is not an option, hurdles will exist and trialing times will test the strength of the 18th SPCS. With solid work ethic and guided leadership, the Airmen of the 18th SPCS will continue the transition under the 21st SW and further the squadron’s, group’s and MAJCOM’s mission.
“The transition has been challenging but not insurmountable,” Putnam said. “The leadership from the Joint Space Operations Center, 14th Air Force, Joint Functional Component Command for Space and the 21st Space Wing has been amazing throughout the process. Becoming a 21st OG unit has been a great experience, and I feel it will only benefit the future of the Space Situational Awareness mission as we move forward into the future.”
“We are extraordinarily excited to have the 18th SPCS with us,” said Brock. “This new close relationship has helped inform our other squadrons of their role within the greater SSA mission. It has really improved the quality and satisfaction of all our Airmen.”
With the past six months in the books, the collaboration between 18th SPCS and the other squadrons within the 21st OG will continue to amplify the 21st SW’s mission to execute global capabilities to defend the homeland and secure space for our nation and allies.