By Scott Prater
Operationally Responsive Space-1 has been breaking new ground since it launched in 2010, so it only makes sense that the squadrons responsible for command and control of the satellite would need to take some innovative steps during its lifespan. Members of the 1st and 7th Space Operations Squadrons established a backup ground-system location for ORS-1 recently, creating an alternate operations floor for the system at another Air Force installation. Since ORS-1 is a unique satellite system that was developed and implemented much faster and has a shorter life expectancy than traditional satellite systems, a backup wasn’t initially planned. But, squadron engineers figured out a way to nearly double the satellite’s expected lifespan after it was launched.
“Most of us have experienced some kind of computer failure,” said Lt. Col. Mike Manor, 1 SOPS commander. “Unfortunately, it happens more often than most people would like and with ORS-1’s expanded life it made sense to create a backup system at an alternate location. Just in case the unexpected occurs here, our crews can rapidly deploy to the backup to ensure the vehicle is safe and the mission is not impacted.”
As a space asset, ORS-1 performs an intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance mission and features a modified version of the Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System-2 camera, normally employed by U-2 aircraft. The program was established during 2008 after U.S. Central Command expressed an urgent requirement for enhanced battle space awareness.
Once its lifespan grew to more than four years, redundancy of secure operations became a key priority for 1 and 7 SOPS. Lt. Col. Robb Owens, 1 SOPS director of operations, explained the alternate location’s operations floor provided a near perfect setting for the ORS-1 backup system.
“We have some mission-unique software, but since they use the same ground system architecture we can deploy our personnel and operate from there easier than we could somewhere else,” Owens said. “It was an obvious fit.”
The backup operations center will be activated in three phases, according to Manor. In the first phase, which has already taken place, 1 and 7 SOPS operators, orbital analysts and engineers checked out the compatibility of systems and confirmed contact was possible with ORS-1. In the second phase, command and control crews actually contacted the vehicle via the Air Force Satellite Control Network and performed state-of-health commanding. The third phase will involve performing a station-keeping maneuver.
“If we can perform station-keeping maneuvers to maintain the vehicle’s correct altitude and check the vehicle’s health, we know we can keep it operating,” Manor said. “Those are two critical functions we need to accomplish.”
Phase three, which also involves installing and testing mission-planning software, should occur later this year.
“At that point, we will be able to sever ties with Schriever during an emergency situation and run operations from the backup operations floor,” Manor said. The combined 1 and 7 SOPS will not keep a permanent crew at the alternate location but will designate appropriate personnel for temporary assignment as needed.
“Our team is focused on ensuring mission operations remain uninterrupted regardless of the situation,” Manor said. “The Joint force and our nation depend on our mission data, and it’s incredibly important to have an extra layer of redundancy so we can deliver when needed.”