By Scott Prater
While GPS Block IIF-5 sat atop a Delta IV rocket Feb. 20 at Cape Canaveral, Fla., the men and women of the 2nd and 19th Space Operations Squadron here were busy preparing for liftoff. These two squadrons epitomize the quintessential relationship between Reserve and regular Air Force organizations that makes a successful total force team.
The casual observer may have guessed the Feb. 20 launch marked the start of operations for the Air Force’s newest GPS vehicle, yet, it was hardly the beginning for 19 SOPS.
The 19 SOPS Airmen have been testing and training on the GPS constellation’s newest addition for months.
“We conduct countdown, launch and early orbit operations,” said Maj. Kim Adams, 19 SOPS launch lead. “But, we work in tandem with 2 SOPS, the Space and Missile Systems Center and contractors. We work well together and communicate effectively. This launch was our smoothest yet.”
Though 2 SOPS is most commonly associated as the command and control unit responsible for operating GPS, the 19 SOPS team of reservists plays a critical role in providing GPS service to the military and civilian sectors, especially during satellite launches.
“We conducted eight major tests and activities with Cape Canaveral starting about 120 days prior to launch,” Adams said. “We also conducted a mission dress rehearsal alongside Space and Missile Systems Center personnel at Los Angeles AFB about 30 days before launch.”
Once the vehicle launched, the team, composed of 95 percent 19 SOPS personnel, sprung into a whole new mode.
Just as the launch countdown began Lt. Col. Matthew Brandt, 2 SOPS director of operations, settled into a seat inside the 2 SOPS/19 SOPS operations floor here.
“I was fascinated by the show,” he said. “Our team of 2 SOPS, 19 SOPS, SMC personnel and contractors first acquired the satellite while it was still attached to its booster rocket.”
After the booster separated, the vehicle began turning on its own. Later in the evening, it achieved sun-safe operations. That’s when the team stabilized it, deployed its solar arrays and sent its first commands.
“It’s a riveting event to watch,” Brandt said. “The teams are working together, Major Adams is coordinating with 19 SOPS, SMC and contractors, and you can hear personnel from Cape Canaveral on the telecom speakers. Everyone is communicating back and forth, saying, ‘we’re go for this action; we’re go for this stage.’ And, it all went off perfectly.”
Though this team has launched and orbited five satellites in the past few years, Brandt said the technical marvel never ceases to amaze.
“I can’t even get my garage door opener to work, but we can launch a satellite that’s traveling at thousands of miles an hour, thousands of miles from Earth and every step occurred at exactly the time it needed to occur,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see the team come together and place the vehicle exactly where it needs to be.”
Satellite vehicle No. 64 is the fifth GPS IIF vehicle on orbit. GPS IIF satellites incorporate greater navigational accuracy than legacy vehicles through improvements in atomic clock technology, an increased design life of 12 years, a new third civilian signal [L5] that provides a more robust signal for commercial aviation and safety-of-life applications, and a second civilian signal [L2C] available for dual frequency GPS receivers.
This launch marks the beginning of an event filled year for these space professionals. Capt. Steven Miller, 2 SOPS assistant director of operations, said this launch was in many ways a rehearsal for the next one because the Air Force plans to launch and orbit three more GPS IIF satellites in 2014.
GPS IIF-6 is slated for a May liftoff, while another is due to occur in July and another in October.