2nd Space Operations Squadron Modernizes GPS Constellation

Col. Dennis Bythewood, 50th Operations Group commander, transfers command and control of the seventh GPS Block IIF satellite to Lt. Col. Todd Benson, 2nd Space Operations Squadron commander, Aug. 8 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Col. Damon Feltman, 310th Space Wing commander (left), and Lt. Col. Stephen Slade, 19th Space Operations Squadron commander (right), also participated in the transfer ceremony. Members of 2 SOPS and 19 SOPS operate the GPS constellation.  Image Source: Schriever Air Force Base

Col. Dennis Bythewood, 50th Operations Group commander, transfers command and control of the seventh GPS Block IIF satellite to Lt. Col. Todd Benson, 2nd Space Operations Squadron commander, Aug. 8 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Col. Damon Feltman, 310th Space Wing commander (left), and Lt. Col. Stephen Slade, 19th Space Operations Squadron commander (right), also participated in the transfer ceremony. Members of 2 SOPS and 19 SOPS operate the GPS constellation. Image Source: Schriever Air Force Base

Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. August 22, 2014 – The 2nd Space Operations Squadron accepted satellite control authority of its seventh GPS Block IIF satellite during a transfer ceremony on August 8.

Following its launch August 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, acquirers from the Space and Missile Systems Center and operators from the 50th and 310th Space Wings performed an extensive checkout of the spacecraft during its transition into a primary slot in the GPS constellation.

Col. Bill Cooley, director of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s GPS Directorate, started the ceremony by transferring satellite control authority of the vehicle, known as SVN-68, to the 14th Air Force.

Col. Todd Brost, director of 14th Air Force operations and exercises, accepted SCA and transferred it to the 50 SW, represented by Col. Dennis Bythewood, the 50th Operations Group Commander.

“The vehicle check-out and subsystem testing performed by our joint team during the past week since launch of SVN-68 has been an extremely smooth process,” said Bythewood, who experienced his first SCA transfer since assuming command of the 50 OG in June. “We’ve had minimal interruptions and that’s a testament to all of the hard work produced by our team members from SMC, the 50th Space Wing and the 310th Space Wing. We couldn’t do this without the coordination and cooperation of everyone involved.”

Bythewood delegated command and control of SVN-68 to 2 SOPS Commander, Lt. Col. Todd Benson.

“We are excited to operate the newest Block IIF GPS satellite,” Benson said. “This success would not have been possible without the dedicated professionals of our Reserve partners at the 19th Space Operations Squadron and the talented SMC team.”

With the addition of IIF-7, 2 SOPS now has 14 modernized vehicles in the operational constellation. This was the third SCA ceremony for a GPS satellite this year, but the first for Benson who assumed command of 2 SOPS in July.

Capt. Achille Aloisi, 2 SOPS assistant director of operations, explained that adding a seventh Block IIF vehicle to the GPS constellation is significant. It allows 2 SOPS to continue constellation optimizing by replacing legacy Block IIA vehicles with modernized Block IIF vehicles. Squadron operators plan to place SVN-68 in a slot formerly occupied by SVN-43. They’ll then co-locate SVN-43 into a slot occupied by SVN-26 to create some redundancy among these two older satellites in that slot.

“Every time we launch a new GPS vehicle nowadays, we must place an older, less performing vehicle into a launch- anomaly-and-disposal-operations orbit,” said Aloisi.

“This time, we’re placing SVN-33 into LADO due to its clock performance and failed hardware redundancy. The most important aspect of this optimizing tactic is that we’re inserting a brand-new clock into the constellation, while we’re removing an older, lesser performing clock.”

This timing accuracy is important as GPS satellites transmit digital radio signals to receivers on the ground, allowing military and civilian users to calculate their time, location and velocity.

The Block IIF series is the fifth generation of GPS spacecraft and provides improved timing technology, a more jam-resistant military signal and higher powered civilian signal compared to previous models. SVN-68 was designed to operate on orbit for 12 years and includes a reprogrammable processor capable of receiving software uploads.

The eighth GPS Block IIF is slated for launch in October. Ultimately, the Air Force plans to launch 12 Block IIFs and has one launch remaining in the planning stage for 2014.