SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 22nd Space Operations Squadron has been supporting launches since the beginning of the space program in the 1950s. The legacy of the squadron is rooted in controlling ground antennas required to command satellites for the nation's first orbiting spy program.
Roughly 60 years later, 22 SOPS is still a major staple in the space industry, coordinating the launch and on-orbit operations of more than 150 Department of Defense, national intelligence, civil and allied nation's satellites including in support of global war fighters, intelligence community users, the President and Secretary of Defense.
Already having supported multiple launches this year, 22 SOPS will support back-to-back launches on Nov. 18 and 19 followed by two additional launches before the end of the year.
The first launch, slated for Nov. 18, is in support of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission set to explore the explore the planets upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Data collected will be used to provide insight into how a loss of volatile compounds from Mars' atmosphere to space has affected atmosphere, climate, liquid water and planetary habitability over time.
"There are 450 contacts a day on average, and approximately 120 changes per day," said Capt. Robert Lerner, 22 SOPS launch officer. "When a launch happens, that number jumps up a lot."
This isn't the first mission to mars that the squadron has supported, and certainly not the first interplanetary mission.
"It's not always a 50th Space Wing mission that we're supporting. We support DOD missions, civil missions such as NASA and commercial missions too," said Lerner. "In 2011, we supported the Mars Science Laboratory, and getting the Mars Curiosity Rover out there, and it's still there."
The benefit gained from 22 SOPS' support isn't solely for those they are supporting.
"Supporting non-DOD missions actually benefits the 50th Space Wing or Air Force. Supporting other government agencies and commercial entities for launches is a great opportunity for the Air Force and its partners in space to exchange invaluable information on how they do business, advances in technology and most importantly any lessons learned." said Lt. Col. Mafwa Kuvibidila, 22 SOPS director of operations.
The two launches following the Nov. 18 interplanetary mission will support programs including the Space Test Program, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Reconnaissance Office. A commercial launch will also be supported to place a medium sized communications satellite focused on South Asia.
"We've supported the very first space shuttle mission, we've supported the last space shuttle mission, the Hubble space telescope shuttle mission, and the first GPS launch," said Lerner.
Support from 22 SOPS shows no sign of breaking from that trend. They will continue to support mission launches, ensure continued access to space and protect the ability to create space effects vital to our nation's security.
"A new launch is always an exciting time not only for 22 SOPS but the entire AFSCN team, from the schedulers on the Network Operations floor to the operators at remote sites around the world," said Kuvibidila. "A launch becomes a top priority for the AFSCN to support, barring any satellite emergencies, and three launches within one week adds a little pressure. It's amazing to see how the operators absolutely rock each launch, making such a significant event look so easy and continue to support the day to day mission for the 50 SW and all of our other DOD and non-DOD customers."
Source: 22 SOPS supports multiple launches