By 2nd Lt. Darren Domingo
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
When you need maintenance or have to implement updates to your car, it’s not difficult to physically go to a shop down the road for repairs.
However, when dealing with satellites orbiting more than 20,000 miles above our heads, the situation is not so simple and calls for a nexus to communicate with these intricate space machines.
Enter the 22nd Space Operations Squadron.
“We provide assured access to space and we allow users to access their satellites for telemetry, tracking and commanding through the use of the Air Force Satellite Control Network,” explained 2nd Lt. Gregory Allen, 22 SOPS network crew commander.
The AFSCN, which the squadron oversees, comprises 16 different antennas that radiate radio frequency energy, allowing users to access their satellites.
These satellite dishes range to 65 feet wide, and radiate to satellites all the way out to the geostationary orbit.
“We make sure that users can track their satellites, knowing where in orbit they are and also allow them to perform data downlinks and command uplinks, making sure that their (satellite) bus is healthy and their mission is being executed,” said Allen.
Scratch the interstellar Magic School Bus image that may come to mind when the term “satellite bus” is used. The satellite bus refers to the engine of the satellite — the batteries, the temperature control systems, the structure itself, etc.
The squadron stays busy supporting more than 175 satellites. A misconception about their mission is that 22 SOPS only supports military users. In reality, their customers include space operations centers within the 50th Space Wing and military, as well as external users outside of the Department of Defense.
“We have a unique point of being a nexus for all these different users where we talk to different space units,” said Allen. “We interface with a lot of different users in a lot of different places supporting a lot of different missions.”
Communication, missile warning and missile defense are just a few areas of the space mission they touch.
When users need a support from 22 SOPS to communicate to their satellite, their requests must fall within a network operations tasking order, or priority list, which satellite schedulers create every 24 hours. These schedules dictate which users are allowed to be radiating on which antennas at which times.
“We schedule time across 16 different antennas for the users on the AFSCN so they can contact their satellites when they need to,” said Kevin Cox, AFSCN satellite network scheduler.
Cox is currently in his 16th year as a 22 SOPS civilian scheduler but served as a staff sergeant with the 6th and 7th Space Operations Squadrons at Schriever in 1990.
On the scheduling side of the 22 SOPS mission, one will find the team is almost entirely prior military space operators turned civilian satellite schedulers. It’s for good reason, because each scheduler has an average of more than 10 years of space operations experience under their belts.
The process of becoming a certified scheduler includes a 10 month training that includes simulators that take a real world database, copy the data from our machine and upload it to the training station to practice offline. According to Cox, it can still take a year for new schedulers to get comfortable with the job.
Ed Cook, AFSCN satellite network scheduler, has spent 14 years in the unit, but arrived at Schriever in 1998.
“I was an enlisted ground systems operator for GPS. The opportunity presented itself and I was able to have the right mix of experience to get on the (22 SOPS) team,” he shared.
“I enjoy working with active-duty military, that’s kind of unique because many of the schedulers here are prior military. So I still enjoy being part of the team, it’s fun,” said Cox.
For more information and historical background, check out their factsheet.