By Maj. George Sanderlin
21st Space Operations Squadron
Detachment 3 commander
KAENA POINT, Hawaii — Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station celebrated 55 years of space operations Feb. 26. The tracking station is located near Kaena Point above Keawaula Bay on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Kaena Point is part of the Air Force Satellite Control Network, which consists of seven remote tracking stations located around the world.
“Kaena Point is a beautiful place to work, and has a long standing history of loyalty and service to the United States,” said Charlene Kaawaloa, a longtime administrator at Kaena Point.
The site operates two AFSCN antennas used to support more than 150 Department of Defense, national and allied satellites with missions, such as communications, reconnaissance, navigation, weather and early warning. The station is managed by the 21st Space Operations Squadron Detachment 3.
Detachment 3 is a geographically separated unit of the 50th Space Wing located at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. Contractors provide around-the-clock manning for command and control of on-orbit satellites. Additionally, there are 15 Air Force civilians providing base operations and support.
“Being part of Detachment 3 has been an eye opening experience,” said Tech. Sgt. Kyle Fenimore, Detachment 3 NCO in charge. “Space has always been a hobby of mine, but I never thought I would get the chance to be directly involved in the command and control of satellites.”
Construction at Kaena Point began in 1958 and operations supporting the nation’s first satellite reconnaissance program, Discoverer, began in February 1959. The Discoverer program, which was declassified in 1995 and is now known as Corona, was developed to collect photographs of areas around the world including the Soviet Union and Cuba. Photographs could be taken from space without putting pilots in harm’s way and violating the airspace of other nations. Film canisters ejected from the satellite, deployed a parachute and were recovered mid-air by aircraft from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Some canisters were also recovered at sea by ships from Naval Station Pearl Harbor.
Richard Harris, Hawaii Tracking Station chief of operations, said, “As a contractor at Kaena point, I’m directly involved in keeping satellites fully operational so they can perform their mission for our military, our nation and our allied partners.”
In 1966, Kaena Point supported 3,997 satellite contacts. The team consisted of 49 active-duty Air Force personnel and 182 contractors. At that time, schedules and mission orders were received via teletype and phone lines using under-sea cables that linked the remote tracking station with the operations center in Sunnyvale, Calif. Today, data transfers are much faster, and, with technological advances and communication equipment upgrades, the station can do more with fewer personnel.
“The technology has come a long way,” said Marlon Martell, an operations and maintenance technician for the past 25 years. “We can now communicate with multiple operations centers at greatly increased speeds and receive near real-time changes to the mission schedule.”
Today, the unit’s mission is more robust and critical than ever. In 2013, Kaena Point supported 22,255 satellite contacts, which is a huge increase from the 1960s. Kaena Point supports approximately 60 satellite contacts per day. The site retrieves data from satellites and relays commands, such as on-orbit maneuvering, programming of the satellites’ on-board computers and maintaining the health of the satellite. Kaena Point has been providing critical space support to enhance military and humanitarian relief operations for 55 years. Many residents of Oahu have been part of the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station family during its long history and have played a critical role in our nation’s security. To everyone, we say “Aloha and Mahalo.” We look forward to another 55 years of service to the United States of America.