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Schriever Sentinel

Polar tracking station provides strategic value

By Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely | 50th Space Wing Public Affairs

THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — Members of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron Detachment 1 at Thule Air Base, Greenland, take pride in saying “Det. 1 is the best one,” because of the integral support it provides to our nation and military daily.

Capt. John Bang, 23rd SOPS det. 1 commander, said the detachment was established in 1961 to support the Polar Orbiting Geophysical Observatories satellite program, earning the site its POGO nickname.

The detachment’s primary duty is to provide telemetry, tracking and commanding operations to the United States and allied government satellite programs.

“Our parent squadron is located in New Hampshire and they work in conjunction with the 21st and 22nd SOPS as a part of the Air Force Satellite Control Network,” he said. “Det. 1’s role is to manage the Air Force Satellite Control Network for national use alongside our parent squadron and its other geographically separated units.”

The AFSCN is what connects the Air Force’s space operators to satellites, allowing them to collect data and push commands to the satellites. Det. 1’s 30 American and Danish contractors work to provide satellite connectivity for users in the polar region of the world.

“Without Det. 1, there would be a challenge in creating constant communications with certain assets,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to collect data and push commands as frequently and as often as we’d like [if we weren’t here].”

Despite being in a remote location 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Bang said the unit has provided five years of error free support, or contacts, with satellites.

“The ops are run by people,” he said. “Everyone keeps our mission running from the engineer to the operator. We operate 24/7, 365 to continue [the mission]. Our operators will be here regardless of the weather and even stay overnight if it’s needed.”

Although coming into work regardless of weather may seem normal, the Arctic’s strong winds, unpredictable snow storms and an average winter temperature ranging from 13 to 20 degrees below zero, can make the journey to work dangerous.

“Because of our location, we’re not only able to provide coverage for the polar region of the earth, but [we can] contact certain satellites anywhere from 10 to 12 times a day,” said Master Sgt. Marcus Smith, 23rd SOPS Det. 1 chief.

The 50th Space Wing holds the title of “Master of Space” and will continue to maintain space and cyberspace warfighting superiority, a mission which 23rd SOPS Det. 1 is integral in assuring.

Polar tracking station provides strategic value
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