By Scott Prater
The 22nd Space Operations Squadron will officially decommission the Colorado Tracking Station here during a ceremony Monday, signaling the end of operations for one of the Air Force Satellite Control Network’s most valued assets of the past two decades.
Commonly referred to as PIKE, the station has long been associated with Schriever Air Force Base. It provided an iconic image for the base in a multitude of publications and media, which showed the tracking station’s antenna back dropped by a majestic Pikes Peak.
But PIKE was so much more than a display.
It began communicating with military satellites in 1988, just as construction crews were putting the final touches on Buildings 300 and 400 at a place known then as Falcon Air Station.
“During this span, PIKE has provided us with the most reliable satellite operations in the AFSCN,” said Brian Bayless, 22 SOPS Mission Support Flight chief. “It has also provided the largest ground communications bandwidth in the network.”
In its 24 years of service, PIKE ran 174,900 satellite supports and had visibility of 97 of the 154 satellites supported by the AFSCN.
“That’s 63 percent of all of our satellites,” Bayless said. “It also had the highest contact success rate of any antenna in the AFSCN at 99.5 percent.”
When constructed, it represented the latest in Automated Remote Tracking Station technology.
Previous remote tracking stations were commanded on site, which meant that space operations squadrons had to relay commands to antenna operators, who then relayed them to satellites. Conversely, PIKE and the other new ARTS tracking stations acted as conduits, allowing space operators to control the antennas directly.
As years passed, it continued to be a showcase for new technology. Throughout the past two decades, PIKE was the only site that deployed every type of antenna in the AFSCN, including ARTS, Remote Block Change, Transportable RBC and hybrid forms. It was also the only AFSCN site to hold and use GPS enhancement equipment.
Though PIKE proved itself as a top performer among tracking stations, growing efficiency in the AFSCN combined with Air Force budget cuts, ultimately, led to it being redundant. The process of decommissioning the facility actually began years ago. PIKE operated continuously for many years. But, it’s time online eventually dwindled to eight hours a day, five days a week. It was removed from operational status in the summer of 2012.
Since then it has served the Air Force as a proving ground for the next generation of remote technology, from phased-array antennas to the latest transportable RBCs.
“PIKE has provided the AFSCN with critical operational capability during the past two years,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Gibson, 22 SOPS commander. “It met the Air Force Space Command commander’s requirement to offset the loss of one of our operational antennas at Thule Air Base, Greenland and provided essential test support for our next-generation transportable antenna. The legacy of PIKE will continue on for years with our future capability.”
Demolition teams began dismantling the tracking station this week. The control building will remain in place and provide network connections for future AFSCN testing by the Sustainment Program Office.