December 10, 2015 – The sound of applause erupted as the 2nd and 19th Space Operations Squadrons and their mission partners celebrated the 25th anniversary of satellite vehicle number 23, the Global Positioning System’s oldest operational satellite, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Wednesday, December 2.
“This is most notable because the vehicle was designed to last seven and a half years and we’re just over three times its design life,” said Capt. Aaron Blain, 2 SOPS GPS Mission Analysis Flight commander. “Twenty-five is just an awe-inspiring number for a satellite that should have died so many times before.”
This particular vehicle is no stranger to hardship. Despite maintenance issues and several operational review boards during its lifespan, SVN-23 surprised its crew and surpassed all expectations.
“This vehicle has had the most ORBs, but it is so rugged that it has survived everything within the last 25 years that may have killed it,” said Blain. “It’s currently fully operational, our crew is talking to it right now and it is providing a perfect signal to the world.”
As SVN-23 reached the age of 25, it shadows the age of many of its crew members.
“I’m only 23, so it is crazy to think that this satellite is older than me, but it is still functioning and giving us what we need here,” said Senior Airman Chellandrea Cole, 2 SOPS GPS remote site liaison. “It’s remarkable that it’s reached a quarter of a century-that is a long time for a satellite.”
Each member of Team Black Jack understands, regardless of their age, they are critical to the GPS mission–providing global navigation, time transfer and nuclear detection to a worldwide audience. Uses of GPS include precise timing for financial transactions, search and rescue, communications, farming, recreation and both military and commercial aviation.
“The crew members understand they have to be a little more sensitive with this satellite and are always on their ‘A-game,'” said Blain. “Everyone here cares so much about the vehicles and the users.
The 2 and 19 SOPS members insist the reason this satellite has performed so well and lasted so long is because of one thing-teamwork.
“This is a great team, and when we say team we actually mean it. If we didn’t work as a team, this vehicle wouldn’t have survived its 25 years in orbit,” said Blain.
Blain insisted the GPS mission and maintenance of the satellites in orbit wouldn’t be possible without the support of Team Black Jack’s mission partners and leadership: Boeing, Aerospace, Lockheed Martin and Headquarters Air Force Space Command – many of whom were in attendance at the ceremony.
“We all have a lot of pride and love in this vehicle,” said Blain. “Boeing and Aerospace have been the long-term continuity for everything that has happened with this vehicle. We may be the ones punching the buttons, but they’re standing right behind us saying ‘yes that’s good.’ It’s an amazing relationship.”
As the team continues to care for SVN-23, they are also making plans for its disposition.
“The plan is to take it out of the operational constellation and make it a residual vehicle in January of this upcoming year to make room for the last IIF satellite which will launch February 3, 2016,” said Blain. “It will be a bittersweet day when we take [SVN-23] out of operation and especially when we dispose of it. It’s done well for the world, and the taxpayers have definitely got their bang for their buck on this vehicle.”