By Scott Prater
Anyone who has walked near the north side of the restricted area portal in the past year has probably noticed the large, uncovered satellite dish as it scans the horizon.
It’s not a mystery, but don’t expect to see it for much longer.
The 22nd Space Operations Squadron Mission Support Flight has been testing a transportable ground antenna in preparation for its operational acceptance in the near future.
Brian Bayless, 22 SOPS integrator, heads the Mission Support Flight and says the transportable ground antenna system wouldn’t be possible without the extraordinary innovation and flexibility demonstrated by the mission support flight members.
“We are responsible for integrating hardware and software in and out of the Air Force Satellite Control Network,” Bayless said. “Our technical people deal with communications equipment and ground resources, including antennas and entire command and control systems.”
For instance, Tech. Sgt. Sean Byers, a communications technician, created a centralized database tracker that, in essence, replaced a $5 million communications connectivity system.
“The Air Force could no longer afford the communications configuration management system that previously gave us connectivity within the AFSCN,” Bayless said. “After it was cut off, we had no replacement. But Byers, on his own initiative, told us that he could build a database as a replacement.”
Bayless explained that squadron leaders were initially skeptical of the idea in part because Byers is a communications technician, not a database engineer.
“This was not a trivial matter,” Bayless said. “Plus, Byers had no access to our previous system, so we knew he would have to build the database from scratch.”
Despite overwhelming challenges, Byers successfully developed the database.
His work is not nearly finished, however. He must now work to update the database on a regular basis.
“He must keep updating to achieve 98 percent accuracy, so he’s constantly challenged when things change,” Bayless said. “The AFSCN is a dynamic technical environment and since we do integration, we change or add equipment regularly. It’s a complex system that’s almost in constant flux. He has to adapt to all of those changes.”
The database Byers created helps Tech. Sgt. Justin Magers track the flight’s self-inspection and compliance programs, a duty he assumed back in March.
Magers not only tracks 29 unit programs for compliance, he has taken the lead role for coordinating the testing and flight checking of the new $35 million transportable ground system. Once the transportable ground antenna is deemed operational, it can be used at any AFSCN tracking station as a contingency if a permanent ground system antenna goes down for any reason.
“As long as we have communications and power, we can set this system up to support any of our more than 150 satellites on orbit,” Bayless said. “Sergeants Byers and Magers are helping make this happen.”
Bayless said that Byers and Magers have demonstrated superior management of resources, conduct that helps the 22 SOPS mission support flight execute its mission of integrating systems and software into the AFSCN. Managing resources and executing the mission are two of the Commander’s Inspection Program’s four major graded areas.
“There is a direct mission impact to what those guys do,” Bayless said. “More than 1,600 AFSCN operators depend on those two sergeants to be on their game, to make sure the information they need to operate the system is accurate and quickly accessible. They’ve done an excellent job above and beyond what is expected out of NCOs, all while showing a ton of innovation and initiative.”
Upon completion of its flight test at Schriever, the transportable ground antenna will assume its mission and be deployed to support factory compatibility tests.