By Lt. Col. Dean Bellamy
23rd Space Operations Squadron
NEW BOSTON AIR FORCE STATION, – May 30 marked 50 years since New Boston AFS was activated as a remote tracking station. The station started out as a unit under the 6594th Test Wing at Sunnyvale, Calif. Today, the 23rd Space Operations Squadron is a geographically separated unit assigned to the 50th Network Operations Group.
New Boston, home of the 23rd SOPS, creates assured access to space and cyberspace by operating and maintaining the largest Air Force Satellite Control Network Remote Tracking Station whose mission is to provide tactical support to Joint Functional Component Command for Space by performing satellite operations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
New Boston provides a real-time capability to users performing on-orbit tracking, telemetry, commanding and mission data retrieval services for more than 140 Department of Defense, national agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and allied satellites.
“We’re proud of the men and women of New Boston Air Force Station for their accomplishments to space operations for the last 50 years,” said Col. Cary Chun, 50th Space Wing commander. “Your professionalism and commitment to the mission reflects well on the entire 50th Space Wing family. Congrats!”
Before it was a remote tracking station, New Boston was used as a military bombing range from 1942-1956 in support of Grenier Field in Manchester, N.H. Through the height of World War II and the Korean War, Air Force and Navy flight crews honed their air-to-ground bombing skills on this range. Bombing activities concluded in 1956.
Today, they are within a multi-year effort to clean up left behind unexploded ordnance and metal debris. The squadron has the leading program in the Air Force and is very proud of the effort to partner with the State of New Hampshire and involve its neighbors to remove any personnel and mission risk.
In 1959, the Air Force acquired the range for satellite operations under the 6594th Instrumentation Squadron under the Air Research and Development Command and began construction of the station. Two sister stations (Hula and Cook) also opened in 1959 to join in the growing network of worldwide RTS. At that time RTS downloaded satellite data, processed it and sent it onto a control node.
On Aug. 11, 1960, the station performed its first satellite operational support as part the Discovery XIII mission using mobile, van-mounted equipment. On June 15, 1961, New Boston’s 60-foot antenna was certified operational. By the summer of 1964, satellite operations moved into its permanent facilities. Personnel strength in October 1964 was 24 officers, 316 enlisted Airmen, 43 Air Force civilians and 99 contractors for a total of 482 personnel.
In the early 1960’s, the AFSCN performed approximately 300 satellite contacts a year. In 1972, a 46-foot antenna was added, giving the station both “A-side” and “B-side” antennas. At this time, the large crews operating the antennas were collocated in the same building as the antenna.
In 1979, 23rd SOPS alone performed more than 20,000 satellite contacts. A third antenna, a much smaller data link terminal, was activated in 1988.
In 1993, the automated remote tracking station system was installed to move data processing to the control nodes. This change upgraded both hardware and software systems, but it also significantly reduced the number of required operators and moved them into a central operations floor.
In 1997, it performed more than 23,000 mission supports. The original A-side antenna was decommissioned in 2005, and its replacement, a new 46-foot A-side, was certified operational in 2007.
Toward the end of 2007, the Data Link Antenna and Terminal was removed and replaced with the Source B antenna. In 2007, 23rd SOPS accomplished a station all time record of 27, 300 supports.
“Congratulations New Boston Air Force Station on your 50 years of dedicated service to our nation,” said Col. Mitchel Butikofer, 50th Network Operations Group commander. “Your contributions to the mission of satellite command and tracking have had a tremendous impact on our military operations.”
As already noted, there was a large footprint of people at New Boston AFS in 1964 to perform the mission. Today, their mission systems are operated and maintained by a professional, contracted force. There are about 134 personnel permanently assigned to this station comprised of 10 active duty military, two reservists, 39 Department of the Air Force civilians, 82 contractors and even two tenant personnel. They perform tracking, telemetry and commanding of satellites, ensure communications on and off station via satellite and ground, maintain and modernize facilities, maintain recreational services, grounds and natural resources and protect it. The team is performing everything asked of them, every day, all hours of the day.
The squadron has accomplished some exceptional operational milestones. In its 50th year, 23rd SOPS executes 2,000 satellite contacts a month. Since the squadron started tracking satellite support numbers in 1979, to date, 23rd SOPS has supported more than 655,118 satellite contacts.
” On behalf of the men and women of New Boston Air Force Station, I want to express how proud we are of our historical association with the AFSCN,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Reigstad, 23rd SOPS commander. “We continue our ‘can-do’ attitude and draw on the inspiration of our sister units in the 50th Network Operations Group and their commitment to current and future space and cyberspace operations”