By Senior Airman Naomi Griego
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 3rd Space Operations Squadron will retire its oldest satellite currently in orbit later this month at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
The Defense Satellite Communications System satellite, known as B10, is a 21-year-old wideband satellite currently in orbit 22,000 miles in space.
“It was launched in November 1993,” said Lt. Col. Chris Todd, 3 SOPS commander. “It is currently our oldest satellite on orbit.”
The satellite, which has exceeded its design life by more than a decade, has provided service to more than 241,000 users and support to all nine combatant commands.
“We try to maximize their utility,” said Todd. “It’s like your car; you want to get the most out of it before it no longer runs.”
In order to super-sync the satellite, or retire it, the unit does a sequence of burns with its thrusters and pushes it out of orbit.
“Once B-10 is super-synced we will go through actions to deplete the fuel and turn off all components,” said Todd.
Not to fret though, 3 SOPS has many other wideband satellites in orbit to continue providing support to its hundreds of thousands of customers. And with the decommissioning of old satellites it makes room for new ones.
“Launching new satellites gives us new capabilities with new technology,” added Todd.
Maj. Samuel Richard Oppelaar III, 50th Operations Support Squadron, lifetime DSCS operator as he puts it, said this will mark his fifth involvement with super-syncing a satellite.
“My first assignment was in 3 SOPS as a lieutenant and captain,” said Oppelaar. “I was a satellite vehicle operator for a year and engineer for three.”
He said super-syncing a satellite is some of the most exciting commanding he has ever gotten to do.
“You’re essentially decommissioning a national asset,” he said. “It’s like taking a battle ship in space and putting it in the bone yard.”
Despite the excitement, Oppelaar said it’s a sad day for everybody involved to retire a satellite whose involvement can be traced through many world conflicts.
Oppelaar said he is personally thankful for DSCS, because aside from command and controlling it, he was also a user at one time.
“I have used DSCS in the field while deployed,” he said. “I knew it was going to work because of the people here who were operating it.”
Oppelarr recalled an instance where he defied logic and commanded a satellite from his home.
“I remember one instance when I was the engineer on call, my wife asked me ‘What are you doing?’”, he said. “I said, I’m commanding a satellite from my living room over the phone.”
Oppelaar said every operator who has touched DSCS in one way or another should be extremely proud.
“Every contact or support you do counts,” he said. “They all have the same impact, which is keeping the satellite in orbit to support the users.”