By Staff Sgt Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 22nd Space Operations Squadron and Team Schriever held a cessation of operations ceremony Friday for the Colorado Tracking Station, commonly referred to as PIKE, to commemorate its achievements and milestones.
After a continuous operational status of more than 24 years, PIKE ran its last operational satellite contact July 9 transitioning to a full-time test, troubleshooting and contingency Air Force Satellite Control Network site. In fitting symmetry, PIKE’s first and final contacts were with the GPS constellation. Effective July 16, the station transitioned to test support for the automated remote tracking station hybridization.
“This ceremony is kind of the opposite of a ribbon cutting,” said Col. Jonathan Sutherland, 50th Network Operations Group commander. “It is important to take time to recognize the changes that have and are occurring at PIKE. [Its] operational capability went from OPSCAP green to white this July for the first time. Soon, the Schriever skyline is going to change as Colorado Tracking Station’s RBC radome is removed and its antenna is packed and shipped for reuse at Thule Tracking Station.”
PIKE was commissioned and became operational in 1988. For decades, the PIKE has been used for satellite ops telemetry, tracking and commanding of Air Force, Department of Defense and national space vehicles, contacting the space shuttle and supporting hundreds of launches.
The station was the first article for the Automated Remote Tracking Station system, at the time state-of-the-art technology that advanced AFSCN operations from Current Data System to Data System Modernization. This allowed modern AFSCN satellite command and control processing, transitioning satellite data entry from remote tracking station to satellite operations centers. Also, the new ARTS system reduced manpower per shift from six personnel working mainframe components to one operator running ARTS.
PIKE was often the first antenna site to undergo AFSCN upgrades, leading the way for enterprise modernizations. As new technology was rolled out, PIKE was often the first to test new equipment, configurations and capabilities. These included the Control and Status processor, GPS-E enhancement (allowing C2 for the GPS constellation), AFSCN link protection system, phased array, high power amplifier among others.
During its operations, PIKE had visibility of 97 of the 150 plus AFSCN satellites and accomplished more than 180,000 satellite contacts since its inception. It also supported more than 300 launches including Titan, Delta and Atlas missions, enabling the placement of today’s modern space capabilities. In tribute to PIKE’s operations and history, a number of commentaries were shared including one from Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, now 20th Air Force commander, but previously a Colorado Tracking Station detachment commander, and Tech. Sgt. Shale Norwitz, PIKE’s current NCO in charge.
Lt. Col. Scott Angerman, 22nd Space Operations Squadron commander, emphasized the importance and continuing mission for PIKE.
“[Col. James Ross, 50th Space Wing commander] has emphasized that the space effects delivered by the 50th Space Wing are foundational to our country’s way of life and military’s asymmetrical advantage,” Angerman said. “The AFSCN is foundational to not just 50th Space Wing operations and missions but other DOD satellite flyers and national assets. The Colorado Tracking Station has had a trailblazing role in testing and modernizing the AFSCN.”
With the cessation of routine operations and transformation to a testing facility, PIKE will continue to provide a site to crosscheck satellite configurations for on-orbit operations, he said. Colorado Tracking Station will also be critical for contingency fallback and surge capability at the site of the AFSCN primary network node and majority of satellite operations customers.
“As we go forward, PIKE is going to continue to be important,” said Angerman. “It’s [essential] to preserve PIKE’s capabilities for testing, troubleshooting and contingency operations because we need a place to test technology in an operational environment.”