By Scott Prater
When Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, declared the Operationally Responsive Space-1 satellite had achieved final operational capability in early January, the announcement marked a significant milestone for the 1st and 7th Space Operations Squadrons as well as their mission partners.
“What’s most amazing about this milestone is it represents a culmination of three interrelated systems — the ORS-1 satellite; the ground system architecture, known as the Multi-Mission Satellite Operations Center; and our mission planning system,” said Maj. Laura Kohake, 7 SOPS flight commander and lead ORS-1 engineer for 1 SOPS.
Most of the time, when space operations squadrons launch and operate satellites they use a ground system which is already embedded and has launched and operated previous satellites. But, these three systems were all developed concurrently and they all came together at the same time.
“Trying to get all these pieces to come out correctly at the same time so we could start performing operations has been challenging,” Kohake said. “While we were developing the ground system, the mission planning software and the satellite, 1 and 7 SOPS were conducting training and compiling procedures. So when something changed with any of those components we had to go back and relook at everything we did prior. All of that happened at the same time just so we could get to a point where we could launch and begin operations. It represents quite a feat for the program office, for the Operationally Responsive Space Office and for Team 8-Ball.”
The satellite system, ORS-1, represents a fundamental change in the U.S. military satellite acquisition process. The program was established during 2008 after U.S. Central Command expressed an urgent requirement for enhanced battle space awareness.
What makes the ORS system unique is that it took approximately three years to develop from concept to launch and orbit, compared to traditional satellite systems, which typically take seven years or longer to develop. The space vehicle features a modified version of the Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System-2 camera, normally employed by U-2 aircraft.
For ORS-1, the prime contractor attached a larger telescope to the SYERS-2 camera to give it adequate resolution from orbit.
Placed into orbit during June 2011, ORS-1 provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to troops in the USCENTCOM area of operations, including Afghanistan. The 50th Space Wing took control of the satellite during September 2011 from the Space and Missile Systems Center following 45 days of on-orbit checkout.
Team 8-Ball now controls both the ORS-1 bus and its contractor-supplied SYERS-2 electro-optical/infrared camera.
Lt. Col. Mike Manor, 1 SOPS commander, indicated that USCENTCOM leaders have been impressed with the imagery ORS-1 continues to provide.
“The most rewarding part of it all is knowing the images we are sending down range are helping our teammates in harm’s way,” Manor said.
As impressively as ORS-1 has performed so far, the satellite’s ground system may turn out to have an even bigger impact on U.S. military operations.
The MMSOC is a revolutionary approach to space operations — an operations center focused on forging a one-of-a-kind operations and acquisition team to demonstrate and field emerging space missions and satellite command and control technologies in a rapid, decisive manner. It’s also structured to operate a variety of satellite missions, including satellite initiatives without a program office, satellite missions of small scale (small constellations), new missions transitioning from concept toward full-scale operations and all research, development, test and evaluation satellites with operational utility remaining after test and evaluation are complete.
Team 8-Ball was tasked with gluing the systems together and Kohake knew the task would pose difficulties because a model structure had yet to exist.
“The system program office or space development test directorate, based at Kirtland AFB, N.M., sent an entire team up here and helped us develop all of our training and procedures so we could begin operations,” said Capt. Aaron Celaya, 1 SOPS flight commander for MMSOC operations. “We adopted some of their models for our processes, but we had to create all of the procedures, tactics and techniques that we currently use. We had some templates but we had to build all of our checklists from the ground up.”
The key to the ground system’s effectiveness lies in its flexibility.
“Lieutenant Colonel Manor likes to compare MMSOC to a smart phone, where satellites represent apps and the phone is designed to handle the different types of missions,” Celaya said. “The vision for MMSOC is to fly multiple missions, where maybe you have an operator controlling ORS-1 with one computer while he’s sitting next to someone who is controlling a completely different vehicle.”
Team-8 Ball members think they sit on the cutting edge of the future of space operations; an edge that represents a more agile Air Force.
“Operational acceptance of ORS-1 and MMSOC provides a sense of achievement for bringing this great capability to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Robb Owens, 1 SOPS director of operations. “The relatively short timeline and low costs associated with bringing these systems on line is truly amazing and is the result of outstanding teamwork between the ORS Office, Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Development and Test Directorate, ATK Spacecraft Systems & Services, Goodrich Corporation ISR Systems, and 1 and 7 SOPS. Team 8-Ball is proud to operate this historic satellite as we enter steady state operations and fulfill an urgent ISR need identified by USCENTCOM.”