By Tech. Sgt. Jared Marquis
21st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — With two military members and approximately 30 contractors from various companies, the men and women of 23rd Space Operations Squadron, Detachment 1 (call sign POGO) are key to maintaining contact with satellites crossing over the “Top of the World.”
Located at Thule Air Base, Greenland, the detachment falls under the mission set of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Their primary function is to track and communicate with satellites in polar orbit as part of the Air Force Satellite Control Network.
“We perform telemetry, tracking and commanding operations,” said Capt. Theodore Givler, 23rd SOPS, Detachment 1 commander. “Essentially what telemetry means is the health and status of the satellite. Our job is to pull that information from the satellites, so we can funnel that information to its owner/users at various satellite operations centers worldwide.”
Once that information is in the hands of the satellite owner/users, they can make adjustments as needed, such as moving the satellite, by sending commands back through the unit, said Givler.
As necessary, Givler’s team also has the ability to pull mission data from the satellites, he said.
“In addition to pulling down telemetry, we also have the ability to pull down the satellite’s mission data to provide capabilities such as real-time weather data,” he said.
The primary customers of the detachment are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the intelligence community, but the station can reach out and communicate with a wide variety of polar orbiting satellites crossing their field of view, theoretically on every pass.
Because of the way satellites move around the Earth in polar orbits, other stations will see them perhaps twice a day, whereas in most cases Thule will see them every pass. The detachment’s major benefit is their consistency due to their extreme northern latitude.
“For any applicable polar orbiting satellites, in most cases we’re going to see it every time,” he said. “So if you need real-time data from these satellites, we are it.”
They see satellites in polar orbits approximately 10-12 times per day, he said.
Established in 1961, the detachment currently accomplishes their mission with two antennas, called POGO-B and POGO-C.
“The C side is the newest antenna we have,” he said. “It is still in testing and not a commissioned asset yet, but we hope to have operational acceptance soon.”
While POGO-B is older there is a plan to upgrade it. The two antennas currently run off two systems, POGO-B is run off Automated Remote Tracking Station and POGO-C is run off Remote Tracking Station Block Change, said Givler.
“RBC is the next generation of ARTS,” he said. “Once upgraded, POGO-B will be a hybrid — where the antenna itself will be ARTS and its core will be RBC.”
To handle the 24-hour mission, the team needs a minimum of four people on duty at all times, including two operators and one person to work in the communications center, said Susan Iversen, the site manager for the detachment.
This is especially important during the winter, when movements around the base can be halted during harsh weather.
“For that reason, we always try to have one additional person on duty so we can rotate people on and off the console,” she said.
No matter the weather conditions, this team stands ready to perform their mission 24 hours a day, lending their eyes to the SOC to perform real time telemetry, tracking and commanding of any satellite crossing over the “Top of the World.”