By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — On Florida’s panhandle, right off the Emerald Coast and tucked back on the Choctawhatchee Bay, lies Eglin Air Force Base. Tucked further back on the base, but reaching thousands of miles into space, is the 20th Space Control Squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base.
“Our primary mission is to detect, identify and track objects travelling in space,” said Lt. Col. Mafwa Kuvibidila, 20th SPCS commander. “We currently look for about 23,000 objects, it’s kind of like the Federal Aviation Administration in space. We make sure people are doing in space what they say they are doing.”
The 20th SPCS also supports various aspects of space use, such as the International Space Station, military assets, communication satellites for television and GPS, she said. The partner list of allied countries and corporations continues to grow as space-based business increases.
“We are a critical link in supporting (business and national) agreements,” said Kuvibidila.
The site operates a phased-array space surveillance system to track man-made objects both in near-earth and deep-space, around the clock and in all weather conditions. Among the 29 sensor locations in the Space Surveillance Network, the 20th SPCS operates the only one dedicated solely to watching space. It obtains more than 16 million satellite observations each year and can track and identify up to 200 of them at one time.
Also unique to the 20th SPCS is that it is the only space observation radar in the Air Force that faces south. A large part of their mission used to be dedicated to missile warning coverage of the southern hemisphere.
“We have a unique field of view,” Kuvibidila said. “We can see hundreds of things no other (space observation site) can see.” The station views objects as small as a softball from its Florida location.
And the unique aspects of this GSU do not end there. In comparison to its sister ground-based radar sites, the 20th SCPS is authorized to perform depot level maintenance on its equipment. What that means is repairs can be made on site and not have to be sent out.
Eglin AFB is a large installation and the 20th SPCS compound is about an hour’s drive away from the main base. Kuvibidila said the facility and range complex covers three different counties, with the 20th being the only active duty squadron in Walton County.
For those stationed at the 20th SPCS, it is not as isolated a post as it may sound. Kuvibidila said beautiful beaches with some of the clearest water are nearby.
“In the Gulf (of Mexico) you can go outside pretty much year ‘round,” she said. “If you love outdoors and fishing, this is a great place to do it.”
In all of its uniqueness, the 20th SPCS continues to provide eyes in space, joining with similar squadrons around the globe to provide security for America, her military and her allies.