Space Force Decommissions 26-Year-Old GPS Satellite To Make Way For GPS III Constellation

From left, Col. Laurel Walsh, 50th Operations Group commander, and Airman 1st Class Michael McCowan, 2nd Space Operations Squadron satellite systems operator and mission planner, give the final command to decommission Satellite Vehicle Number-36 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Jan. 27, 2020. SVN-36 was launched March 10, 1994, and exceeded its design life of approximately seven years. Image Credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman Amanda Lovelace

January 30, 2020 – The 2nd Space Operations Squadron decommissioned Satellite Vehicle Number-36, the second to last Block IIA satellite, January 27. 

Capt. Collin Dart, 2nd SOPS assistant flight commander of GPS mission engineering, said the disposal of SVN-36 will allow for newer vehicles to take it’s place.

“The main reason it was decommissioned was because, at this time, we’re accepting a lot of the new generation GPS IIIs,” he said. “We’re trying to open up the constellation to accept more of those new vehicles.”

Initially launched March 10, 1994, the satellite exceeded its estimated design life of around seven years, serving operationally for nearly 26 years.

First Lt. Kristina Brandes, 2nd SOPS chief GPS sub-systems analyst, credited maintenance for exceeding its design life.

“The disposal of SVN-36 won’t have an effect on any holes or signal outages,” she said. “We still maintain 31 operational satellites and 35 total satellites in our constellation.”

Space operators at 2nd SOPS perform command and control operations 24/7, 365 days a year to support the constellation for 4 billion worldwide users. 

“I think it’s really awesome that Airmen have been able to maintain this entire constellation and push past the boundary of its design life,” Brandes said. 

The decommissioning the final GPS Block IIA satellite is scheduled to happen later this year.