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18th Space Control Squadron recognized for innovation

18th Space Control Squadron recognized for innovation

United States Space Force Capt. Nicholas Herzer, center, 18th Space Control Squadron mission assurance flight commander and chief of the Combat Development Division, stands with several other members of the CDD, Nov. 23, 2021, in front of the Combined Force Space Component Command headquarters building at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. Responsible for innovation and fast implementation of ideas generated locally, the division was announced as Space Operations Command’s 2021 Colonel Bradford W. Parkinson Innovation Team Award, and will now compete for recognition at the U.S. Space Force level. Members of the team (not all pictured here) also include: Bailey Bourque, Frank Eppich, 1st Lt. Jordan Kent, 1st Lt. Josh Kim, 1st Lt. Jonathan Sapinoso, Staff Sgt. Julianne Loli, and Staff Sgt. Jefferson Monton (U.S. Space Force photo by Lt. Col. Mae-Li Allison)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. --

The 18th Space Control Squadron, Combat Development Division, recently won the 2021 Colonel Bradford W. Parkinson Innovation Team Award at the Space Operations Command level.  Following the Nov. 3 award announcement, the team will now compete for recognition at the U.S. Space Force level.

The Col. Bradford W. Parkinson Innovation Award is a Department of the Air Force level award that recognizes an individual or team who demonstrates innovation to improve efficiency, operational readiness and replication of the innovation across the Space Force enterprise.

The division’s award submission primarily detailed a program it implemented to automate conjunction assessments by reprogramming computers that already resided within the squadron. With very little monetary input or new equipment, but a lot of persistence, resourcefulness and time, the 18th SPCS team significantly increased the number of objects in space that could be assessed, while simultaneously decreasing the manpower needed to do the conjunction calculations.

“The Space Force is pursuing the goal of being the digital service for the future, and I think the 18th SPCS has fully embraced that concept,” said Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, commander of the Combined Force Space Component Command. “I commend them for their ingenuity and commitment to wringing out every bit of capability from our current systems. Their shift to automation permits them to focus on higher-level matters.”

According to the chief of the Combat Development Division Capt. Nicholas Herzer, one of the key drivers of this idea was increasing the ability to provide agile support. 

“Space is consistently changing, so it’s essential to continuously look at new ways of doing things to be able to rapidly respond,” said Herzer, who is also the mission assurance flight commander for the squadron. “That’s at the core of the success of the United States Space Force.”

To automate the squadron's conjunction assessment mission, the CDD coordinated with NASA to pilot a study in order to understand how operations may be scaled back without compromising space-flight safety.

“The CDD worked with NASA and satellite owner/operators to identify a new procedure to identify close approaches between satellites and disseminate meaningful information,” explained 1st. Lt. Jonathan Sapinoso, assistant flight commander of operations at the 18th SPCS. “We specialized in providing timely and effective solutions to identified areas of concern within our unit to make it more agile and efficient. Our small division of three core space operators took initiative and learned how to code and merge this with the existing operational knowledge, setting the new standard of conjunction assessment.”

“The CDD is the first of its kind with an entirely novel approach to space operations,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Lintker, the 18th SPCS commander. “One of the major strengths of this division is how the CDD encourages the reassessment of the force’s core education level, allowing for new operators to enter with a higher baseline of education. Because of this, we are constantly learning and adapting our approach to operations in order to match the changes within the domain.”

The 18th SPCS CDD has embraced the Space Force’s vision of a digitally fluent and agile force that is steadily working towards combatting the threats of today and tomorrow. The CDD’s work not only supports the 18th SPCS’s primary mission to provide and advance a continuous, comprehensive and combat-relevant understanding of the space situation, but also administers global satellite operations for more than 499 international organizations sustaining operations long term.