Air Force Reserve integral part in weather satellite program

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Desiree Economides
  • 310th Space Wing Public Affairs
After the successful launch of the Atlas V rocket carrying the sixth Defense Meteorological Satellite Program payload at 9:12 a.m. today from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the 6th Space Operations Squadron assumes operational control for the existing on-orbit satellite system.

The 6th SOPS, an all Air Force Reserve unit out of Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., plays an integral part in the DMSP through augmenting the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Satellite Operations Facility by assuming the operational control of the current on-orbit, five-constellation system.

"We are proud to have 6th SOPS augmenting NOAA for both the launch and early orbit phase, as well as providing the 24/7 satellite crews for surge operations during Flight 18 test and checkout," said Col. Mark D. Hustedt, former 6th SOPS commander and current 310th Space Wing vice commander.

Normal operations of the DMSP take place at the primary facility, NSOF, in Suitland, Md., and the 6th SOPS operates as the immediate back-up for NOAA. Since the late 90s, the 6th SOPS also assists with launch and early orbit operations, daily proficiency contacts and has taken constellation as the primary operations center 22 times.

"6 SOPS conducts 20 percent of the yearly DMSP operations at ten percent of the cost. As a Reserve unit, we surge when needed then return to steady-state manning," said Lt. Col. Michael P. DiTondo, current 6th SOPS Commander. "We are a small Reserve unit with a small contingency of full-time Airmen but we are all fully trained and certified to fulfill our roles in the DMSP mission, wherever we are needed."

The 6th SOPS is also the only military presence at the operational level in control of the DMSP constellation and is the only agency in the DMSP community that has immediate access to classified intelligence information that can aid in mission planning and mitigate potential threats to the DMSP constellation.

In addition to providing the 24/7 satellite crews during the early orbit phase, the 2-days prior to and 8-days after launch, the 6th SOPS provides a 3-man team of operators to augment the NSOF. This team of Flight Test Coordinators, is responsible for recommendation and approval of satellite configuration changes, and is also responsible for and directs anomaly resolution.

"As test controllers, we are the System Program Office's eyes and ears of the early orbit test," said Maj. Gregory Bules, the 6th SOPS Launch Team Lead and Flight 18 Test Coordinator.

Because of their experience and expertise as operators of the DMSP, the Flight Test Coordinators are able to bring another aspect to the extremely knowledgeable NSOF.
"It's phenomenal to see the amount of experience held in one room. There's over 100 mission experts from various companies in the space industry, including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Harris Corporation and of course the regular Air Force," said Major Bules, 6th SOPS Launch Team Lead and Flight 18 Test Coordinator. "Having experience working at 6 SOPS is very beneficial in that we are able to take our system expertise and bring our knowledge to the table out here at the NSOF."

However, the success of Flight 18 is not only a direct result of the work of the NSOF.

"Although we are doing very important work out here in Maryland, it is absolutely key to have 6 SOPS run the primary operations for the constellation. With them concentrating on the existing on-orbit constellation, it allows us here at the NSOF the ability to focus on the new satellite, to track it's telemetry and take care of any anomalies that may arise during the early orbit testing," said Major Bules.

The success of Flight 18 is truly a result of the collaboration of the Total Force; to include, the Regular Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air Force civilian contractors from various organizations.

"Without a doubt, the key players in Flight 18 include the NOAA, 6 SOPS, DMSP program office, the Program Executive Office for Environmental Satellites and the 30th Space Wing," said Colonel DiTondo.

The combined effort on the DMSP and the importance of the mission cannot be understated. DMSP provides essential environmental intelligence data to the U.S. fighting force for national asset planning and to theater commanders worldwide.

"Flight 18 is so important because it fills the gap of data we had in the current operational constellation, which we use to provide environmental intelligence of the globe to our fighting force," said Capt. Jeremy Cotton, 6th SOPS Chief Operations Support, 310th SW.
Even though the DMSP is nearly 50-years-old, it nonetheless continually improves with the addition of new satellite systems, such as Flight 18. And, according to Captain Cotton, Flight 18 has been a long-time in the making.

"Everyone was very excited for this launch, especially because it was so past due. This satellite was originally schedule dot launch in 2007, but due to higher priority missions and extended program requirements, the launch was delayed," Capt. Cotton said enthusiastically.

After years of waiting, Flight 18 has finally launched and its success is now being tracked around the globe as it integrates into the current DMSP system.