50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 4th Space Operations Squadron brought out the party cups, plates and cakes Monday — not for any employee, but for their Milstar Flight 4 satellite that officially turned 15 years old, surpassing its design life of 10 years.
Dave Cornell, 4 SOPS systems engineer, and a former 4 SOPS master sergeant working on crew, reminisced on some of his early memories of Milstar Flight 4.
“We had the great opportunity to [send] the first commands through the satellite mission control subsystems or as we called it the SMCS,” he said. “That was the ground command and control system. It was successful; we did a lot of on-orbit testing on it and it’s been successful ever since — 15 years now.”
Cornell was not the only person in the room who was present at Flight 4’s launch. John Rogers, 4 SOPS Site Sustaining Engineering Department manager, was on console that day.
“The cool part is when you look around, there are a lot of Lockheed and Aerospace folks who were also here on that day when Milstar Flight 4 launched,” said Rogers. “It’s great to see that some of the same folks are around with the depth and breadth of knowledge that we continue to carry on to help support 4 SOPS as they fly this [system].”
At the time of its conception, Milstar Flight 4 was a major advancement compared to its predecessors.
“Milstar Flight 4 was the first Milstar satellite to bring the medium data rate capability to the warfighter,” said Rogers. “Prior to this Milstar, Flights 1 and 2 had the low data-rate payload on board, which operated at [very slow speeds]. That’s what we were using back in those days until this medium data rate payload showed up.”
By entering orbit as the first Milstar satellite with a medium data rate payload, Flight 4 availed new capabilities for users, such as secure video teleconferences, target data and intelligence transmissions at much faster rates than ever before experienced.
Although the satellite advancements were greatly needed, the design wasn’t meant to last forever.
“There were many people who expected the constellation to be long gone by now,” explained Rogers. “The follow-on to the Milstar constellation is the Advanced Extremely High Frequency system. We’ve launched three AEHF satellites and Lockheed is on contract to build and launch three more — [for] a total of six. There were a lot of folks who assumed as we launched these Advanced EHFs — that those Milstars would be old and decrepit and they would have been super synced and turned off. [However], they’re all still very active and healthy.”
Lt. Col. Sherman Johns, 4 SOPS commander, insisted reaching this satellite anniversary was truly a team effort.
“I am extremely proud of what the entire Protected [Military] Satellite Communication systems enterprise has achieved,” said Johns. “Without the diligent efforts and expertise of the entire team, we would not have been able to celebrate the 15th birthday of Milstar Flight 4 today.”
There’s a saying, “all good things come to an end.” In the case of Milstar Flight 4, the saying doesn’t seem to apply.
“It only had a life expectancy of 10 years, and we’re five years past that — with no end in sight,” said Cornell. “As long as it’s got fuel, we’re going to keep flying it.”
The Milstar satellite constellation will continue to support Protected MILSATCOM in the AEHF band to users from the tactical to the strategic level for years to come.