By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 4th Space Operations Squadron and the 50th Space Wing recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first Milstar satellite in space.
Milstar launched its first satellite Feb. 7, 1994, aboard the first Titan IV-A rocket. The squadron assumed satellite control authority for the first Milstar vehicle Nov. 15, 1994.
The 4 SOPS’s mission is to operate the Air Force’s protected Military Satellite Communication Systems, which provide warfighters global, secure, survivable, strategic and tactical communication during peacetime and throughout the full spectrum of conflict.
“During the ceremony, we had people around from the beginning who told us the history of the first Milstar satellite,” said Capt. Aaron Doyle, 4 SOPS Payload Engineering chief. “It was nice to have our younger Airmen learn about the Milstar satellite from 4 SOPS personnel who were there in the early days of the program.”
Following the first satellite, a second spacecraft was launched Nov. 7, 1995. Both satellites carry a low-data rate payload of 75-2,400 bps of date through 192 channels in the EHF range. Three other satellites followed with payloads that can transmit 4,800 bps to 1.544 Mbps of date through 32 channels. The fifth and final operational Milstar satellite was launched in April 2003. Currently, these five satellites provide continuous 24-hour LDR and MDR coverage to the warfighter.
“The first Milstar is a very sturdy and solidly built satellite,” Doyle said. “I expect it to be around a while longer.”
According to the Milstar factsheet he objective of the program is to create a secure, nuclear-survivable, space-based communication system. It was designed to perform all communication processing and network routing onboard, thus eliminating the need for vulnerable land-based relay stations and reducing the chances of communications being intercepted on the ground.
“Big picture, it’s all about nuclear deterrence and secure communications. If we ever have to face a nuclear event, chances are we’ll be in a scintillated environment. This means that supercharged particles will interfere with the vast majority of communication assets, making them unusable. Milstar will be able to provide a communication link for people in that environment.”
Members of 4 SOPS perform satellite command and control, communications resource management, systems engineering support, mission planning, cryptographic operations, user support and anomaly resolution. Communications resource management includes satellite communications channel monitoring of payload use.
Specifically, operations support personnel plan, execute, monitor and troubleshoot payload use allocations from the presidential level all the way down to tactical users in the field. These functions are unique at the squadron level, as other communications programs’ channel apportionment is allocated by higher headquarters agencies.
Milstar provides the President, Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Armed Forces with assured, survivable satellite communications with low probability of interception and detection as well as supports approximately 1,500 worldwide terminals.
Doyle said past and present 4 SOPS personnel have provided essential support in continuing the mission.
“Our contractors and civilians are important to the continuity of Milstar,” he said. “For the military side, they’ve been instrumental in updating the Milstar system. It’s a good thing we have sharp people in the squadron who can connect the dots and ensure the success of our system.”
Lt. Col. Monte Munoz, 4 SOPS commander, echoed the sentiment.
“The 4 SOPS team is responsible for the command and control of the Milstar and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite constellation through dedicated Extremely High Frequency antennas and the Air Force Satellite Control Network,” said Munoz. “I am proud that the Airmen, government service employees and contractors of 4 SOPS have continued to provide and enable this system to the warfighters as well as the Department of Defense as a whole since the first satellite was launched into the space.”