Air Force Featured Stories

AF Reserve space squadron temporarily assumes command of nation's weather satellites

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stephen J. Collier
  • 310th Space Wing Public Affairs
In a lead up to the recent launch of America's 19th Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, or DMSP, spacecraft, Air Force Reservists here took full command and control of the nation's inventory of weather satellites across the globe.

The 6th Space Operations Squadron, which provides support to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's, or NOAA, DMSP mission as a "hot backup" location, took over the weather satellite mission at 2 p.m. MST April 3. The squadron is expected to maintain operational control of the satellites until April 7.

The takeover control of the satellite "constellation" stems from the need for NOAA to divert manpower and resources to ensuring the newly-launched satellite is properly acquired. This includes ensuring the satellite is placed in a proper low-earth orbit, running systems checks to confirm communication with ground stations and uploading and downloading data to the satellite, certifying the satellite can capture a variety of weather-related imagery -- all while traveling at 25 times the speed of sound.

"This is an exciting time for the 6th SOPS," said Lt. Col. Jody Merritt, the squadron's commander. "DMSP is a heritage program providing significant value to our nation's warfighters and overall national security. I am thrilled to be a part of this historic moment and am proud to work with such a fine group of officer and enlisted space professionals."

To ensure a smooth transition between civilian and military operations, the 6th SOPS transition team, led by Maj. Jeremy Edwards, worked with multiple organizations on the handoff. These included the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center, 50th Operations Group, Detachment 1 based here and NOAA.

The "successful collaboration," according to Edwards, helped to "get (weather) data to key users around the globe.

"This launch will extend the life of this aging constellation, which continues to provide critical terrestrial and space weather updates to vast numbers of military and civilian users," Edwards said. "The successful launch and early orbit operations are a tribute to the hard work and dedication of all the organizations involved."

One the squadron's youngest satellite operators, Senior Airman Lisa Scherer, was also given the unique chance to send the first command instructions to the new satellite, known as Flight 19.

"It was a great privilege given to me by my unit to be able to send the first command to this brand new satellite in a constellation that provides such important decision making data to warfighters and civilian organizations all over the world," she said.

In additional to taking full command and control of the weather satellites, the squadron also provided personnel to NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility in support of the agency's launch and early orbit team. The squadron contributed six personnel, to include three flight test coordinators and three controllers.

The 6th SOPS has taken command authority of the DMSP satellite system five times for unforeseen emergencies and seven times in support of maintenance activities since the last launch of Flight 18 in October 2009. Overall, the squadron has conducted 8,800 support and collection missions over 16,000 hours of data in concurrence with their Reserve function of providing 10 percent of annual DMSP operations at a fraction of the operational cost.