By Senior Airman Sean Mitchell
19th Space Operations Squadron
After the successful launch of the U.S. Air Force’s latest GPS IIF satellite March 25, the work began to maneuver the space vehicle toward earth and begin providing position and timing signals to billions of people world-wide.
Behind-the-scenes activity of operating satellites often goes unnoticed against the sound and fury of the rocket that puts it in space, but the launch is just one brief chapter of the story. Once the satellite leaves the booster, Reserve Airmen of the 310th Space Wing take over.
“This is the 14th GPS launch led by reservists from 19th Space Operations Squadron and is a great example of the Total Force relationship we have with the 50th Space Wing and 2nd Space Operations Squadron,” said Col. Damon Feltman, 310th Space Wing commander. “This shows how two units can leverage each other’s expertise to get a great mission done. We had a blended crew (active duty and Reserve) for the launch with 19 SOPS in the lead, and once the satellite is operationally accepted, 2 SOPS will have the lead for managing its daily operations.”
Citizen Airmen of the 19 SOPS surged for the launch and early checkout of the GPS space vehicle.
“We’re grateful to have such an experienced team at 19 SOPS to lead this critical launch activity,” said Lt. Col. Todd Benson, 2nd Space Operations Squadron commander. “A number of our active-duty personnel were also able to observe and take part in the launch to broaden their operational experience.”
Day to day, the 19 SOPS augments active-duty operation of the GPS constellation performed by 2 SOPS.
“Eighteen of our Citizen Airmen worked rotating shifts around the clock to ensure the latest GPS vehicle was on orbit and mission ready,” said Lt. Col. Sam Baxter, 19 SOPS commander. “Thirteen of those members are launch aces with five or more launches under their belt. Our leading reservist ace has 16 launches, indicating the years of experience our Airmen bring to the operations floor.”
“The two weeks before launch are spent completing the final tests and exercises,” said Maj. Kim Adams, a launch ace with eight successful checkouts to her name. “Once the vehicle is on the launch pad, we verify the launch system can send commands to, and receive telemetry from, the vehicle. We also complete one final run through of the countdown events with the team at Cape Canaveral.”
After the final checkout requirements are complete, satellite control authority is transferred from the Space and Missile Systems Center to 2 SOPS. The Block IIF satellite will soon begin its mission, joining the 38 satellite GPS constellation to enable reliable, accurate timing and position to military and civilian users. The GPS is the world’s largest military satellite constellation.