By Capt. Kristin Hussey
3rd Space Operations Squadron
When working the daily grind of individual tasks and missions, it’s easy to forget sister squadrons, much less the broader space-ops community, and how local issues on Schriever mission systems might affect the operations of others, or possibly degrade mission-critical warfighter services halfway around the world.
To counter this attitude, the 50th Space Wing has developed a Professional Development Program. This program, with key support and representation from the 50th Operations Group and 50th Network Operations Group, will help build future space leaders by expanding their space operations knowledge base as a whole while exposing them to different systems, capabilities and philosophies firsthand.
The program’s selected members are tasked to conduct background research, homework projects and presentations before embarking on a whirlwind tour of DoD, intelligence community and contractor West Coast facilities, followed by an after action report and presentations to parent units.
The contractor facilities and factories offered a combination of satellite briefs and tours where participants learned a broad spectrum of missions. Lockheed-Martin demonstrated their real-time telemetry analysis ops center to Defense Satellite Communication System crews; Northrop Grumman prided themselves on their facility where they ‘grow’ microchips; and Boeing boasted a million square-foot factory hosting two dozen satellites in various stages of development, including Wideband Global SATCOM satellites Flights 4, 5 and 6.
The DoD facilities revealed even more about Air Force Space Command’s overall mission and offered some insight on the history of satellite operations. The team had a unique experience in visiting Sunnyvale’s “Blue Cube” hosted by the 21st Space Operations Squadron, Onizuka Air Force Station, Calif. Currently in the process of moving its operations from Onizuka AFB to Vandenberg AFB, the group learned about their unique mission and how they plan on relocating with minimal disruption to current operations. The group also learned the base’s role in pioneering satellite operations with the now declassified CORONA project and other programs that helped resolve the Cuban missile crisis and overcome intelligence gaps following the 1960 Gary Powers U2 shoot down.
“The tour was a rare opportunity to see how base and squadron leadership in 21st Space Operations Squadron have taken the lead in closing the base and moving assets to Vandenberg,” said Capt. Joe Clemmer, 50th Operations Support Squadron.
The 2nd Range Operations Squadron presented another rare opportunity. The group walked through launch day preparations and gained valuable perspective vital to many of the 50th OG unit members who have recently seen, or are preparing for the launch of a new satellite. With an additional trip to Space Launch Complex-6 to see a Delta-IV heavy on the launch pad, the group was exposed to the history and time-consuming processes necessary for each launch from both the Western and Eastern ranges. The combination of the two created such interest that several team members are now considering launch duty assignments in the future.
The group visited the Vandenberg Tracking Station where 22 SOPS’ Det. 1 hosted the team with a Santa Maria style “tri-tip” barbeque followed by a mission brief and tours. The team toured the AFSCN Automated Relay Tracking Station site, which provided valuable insight for group members who regularly utilize the AFSCN.
The highlight of the week for many was the half day tour of Applied Minds, a think-tank of free-thinkers and engineers who work to invent pioneering technologies and solve problems for the commercial and government sectors. While there, the group was exposed to the up-and-coming technology to be utilized by the DoD: table top computers that literally morphed to form 3-D topographical maps, and other “touchless” tables that fuse multiple layers of intelligence and satellite imagery. The group also witnessed new robotic technology, where handlers operate in a 3D environment, destined to be used in bomb defusing activities.
Consistent with the wing commander’s vision, the Professional Development team was challenged to seek knowledge during the visits and learn more about each other’s systems, to understand how different space-related elements come together to support national and military objectives, and to determine how team members can influence or improve these systems in support of the Air Force mission to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.