By Scott Prater
It’s been a busy year for members of the 19th Space Operations Squadron. As operators of the GPS launch and early orbit, anomaly-resolution and disposal system, 19 SOPS members executed a historically high number of satellite launches (four), and disposed of a legacy GPS vehicle, all within the past 10 months.
“The last time we launched four vehicles in one year was 1993,” said Maj. Kimberly Adams, 19 SOPS LADO flight commander. “We’re looking forward to a more normal [operations] tempo, in the coming year.”
Tensions were high Oct. 29 during the lift-off and early-orbit of SVN-69, a GPS Block IIF vehicle, when a CBS news crew captured film footage of the event on the operations floor here.
“That was out of the ordinary for sure,” Adams said. “Compound that anxiety with the knowledge that we had just completed final configuration of a GPS vehicle disposal not 48 hours prior and you can understand the type of month October was for us and our 2nd Space Operations Squadron teammates.”
Senior Airman Bryan Wynkoop, 19 SOPS satellite system operator, wouldn’t change a thing about the past few months of 2014.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “This sure beats working a regular job. The drama and importance of what’s taking place here is exactly what I signed up for.”
Adams and Wynkoop are Air Force Reservists, as are all 19 SOPS members. The squadron falls under the Air Force’s 310th Space Wing, headquartered at Schriever AFB, and works in partnership with 2 SOPS, the 50th Space Wing unit responsible for commanding and controlling the GPS constellation.
Adams says 19 SOPS was stood up precisely to conduct GPS launches, manage anomalies and process disposals.
“We start preparing for launch about 90 days out,” Adams said. “With so many launches so close together, we often began preparations for one launch before the previous one was off the pad.”
Their partnership with 2 SOPS has proved beneficial for both squadrons.
“This most recent launch was my seventh and Airman Wynkoop’s sixth,” said Adams, who is in her fifth year at 19 SOPS. “Active-duty Airmen typically reside on station for roughly three years, so oftentimes our 2 SOPS teammates are looking to us to provide continuity and experience.”
That continuity became crucial during disposal operations for SVN-33. It had been more than two years since the two squadrons had disposed of a vehicle and Wynkoop was one of the few Airmen at Schriever who was familiar with the operation’s intricacies.
“These events don’t happen often, so to have played a role in two huge events was something special for all of us who were here,” he said.
Less than 48 hours after SVN-33 had been fully configured for disposal, SVN-69 was standing on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Adams, Wynkoop and their fellow 19 SOPS operators’ day started 8 hours prior to the launch.
“Wynkoop had to set up communications links with our antenna at the Cape so we could get telemetry data from the satellite,” Adams said. “Once the rocket lifted off, I was performing communications checks and verifying that we were meeting all of our requirements.”
Then they waited.
Three and half hours after launch, SVN-69 separated from its booster rocket.
“At that point we obtained an initial state of health from the satellite to ensure everything was OK and then we started commanding,” Adams said.
Wynkoop explained that though he and his teammates are actually studying telemetry data through their monitors on the operations floor, it’s easy to envision what’s happening in space.
“The vehicle is spinning once it separates from the booster,” he said. “We then issue commands to slow the spin and deploy the vehicle’s solar arrays, antennas and other critical components. Later, we get the vehicle in a condition known as sun safe. Shortly after, the vehicle acquires Earth and is in a stable orbit in the GPS slot where it’s supposed to be.”
Now, it’s up to 2 SOPS to command and control the satellite, one of 39 on orbit. The squadron expects to receive satellite control authority of the spacecraft later this month and the next GPS launch is scheduled for March 2015.