Holloman Solar Observatory: Maintaining world-wide SOONs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christine Groening
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs


Editor’s note: This is the second in a four part series of articles on the solar observatory.


Here at Holloman Air Force Base, the 2d Weather Squadron, Detachment 4, Solar Observatory works as a central hub for maintenance support and technical training for the Solar Observing Optical Network across the globe.


“Our purpose is twofold here at Holloman,” said Staff Sgt. Bradley Douglas, 2d WS, Det. 4, SOON centralized repair activity, technician. “We maintain our telescope at Holloman and do all the preventative maintenance it requires and the other part is showing our maintenance students what to expect from us as depot-level maintenance support.”


These Airmen are the subject matter experts when it comes to the telescopes and requires a lot of out of the box thinking when it comes to maintaining and repairing.


“We’re the technical support,” said Everett Brooks, 2d WS, Det. 4, integrated systems mechanic. “We repair any parts that come in from Learmonth (Australia) and San Vito (Italy), and provide feedback if technicians on site are having issues; we can talk them through how to fix the problem. In this type of maintenance, we have to have be innovators. A lot of what we do, you have to think on your feet and figure out what to do when you hit a roadblock. It’s more complex and more involved in a process and ensuring it keeps operational. It’s not a job where you solely follow a handbook, which I really like.”


The Holloman technicians provide complete overhauls (every five years) and inspection maintenance (every year), but they ultimately expect the on-site technicians to keep the SOON maintained and running year round.


During inspections, technicians are looking for issues to pieces and parts such as coating -- and electronic defects. Not only do they look at replacing parts, but they also work with the local technicians to ensure they are conducting maintenance too and provide any training if needed.


"When we do overhauls they consist of lowering the telescope, to disassemble the main assemblies to inspect each piece for corrosion and serviceability," Douglas said. "Then we reassemble the system and baseline it. Inspections are not as in depth, but sort of involved the same thing, except we're not disassembling the whole unit."


This year the CRA Airmen will be conducting a full overhaul of the Learmonth Observatory, and will overhaul Holloman Air Force Base’s Observatory next year.


According to Douglas, this sort of job is for someone who enjoys thinking outside of the box and loves a challenge.


“This job is not as simple as you opening a technical order, following the directions, replacing the part and then going about your day,” said Douglas. “You can’t do that here. This system is extremely complex, and rightly so, because of what it is as a whole. There are several parts of this system that add to its complexity; this is not simply a radio, nor is this is solely an electrical system, this is an optical system capable of looking at and capturing the surface of the sun, and therefore an extremely unique mission. When you’re dealing with optics such as fiber, there's a lot of information in that alone. And when you’re combining that with isolating specific wavelengths, optical enhancement, cameras, mechanical operations, electronics and computer systems to make it all work, you really have to have a good understanding of all of that to perform this job well.”


High levels of accuracy and attention to detail is vital to deliver accurate information of solar activity. And without the CRA team’s expertise, the mission to provide around the clock solar analysis and forecasting to the everyday warfighters would not be possible.