JFCC-Space achieves flight safety milestone
By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 14, 2010
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Joint Space Operations Center here recently reached a milestone Dec. 18, increasing the number of active satellites tracked from 120 to approximately 1,150.
Now tracking every active satellite in space, the JSpOC reached the goal set by Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command ahead of their January 2010 deadline.
The drive to reach this new capability stems from 2009's Iridium-Cosmos satellite collision. The Iridium 33, a communications satellite, collided with the Cosmos 2251, an inactive Russian communications satellite, at more than 15,000 mph. This caused bigger problems, according to JSpOC personnel, because the debris created in the aftermath increases the risk of collisions with other satellites and space equipment.
With the ability to conduct conjunction assessment screening of all active satellites, as well as track nearly 21,000 objects in space, the JSpOC can now minimize the chances of a similar incident. Using conjunction assessment data, which is essentially a forecast of whether or not a satellite will collide with another object in space, the Center's experts can call the owners and operators of satellites that may be in danger. These owners and operators include the U.S. government, as well as governments and companies from around the world.
"It's important for the Department of Defense so we can continue to provide those crucial services (such as GPS or uninterrupted missile warning capability) to forces deployed around the world," said Col. Richard Boltz, the commander of the 614th Air and Space Operations Center and director of the JSpOC. "And it's important to the world in general because everybody has to share the space environment. The fewer of those collisions we have, the more freedom of action that all space-faring organizations will be able to enjoy."
In order to achieve this tracking capability, the JSpOC worked closely with AFSPC, USSTRATCOM, Joint Functional Component Command for Space and the 14th Air Force staffs to make changes and improvements in three areas: personnel, equipment and procedures.
First, AFSPC approved additional billets for conjunction assessment screening, increasing the military manning from six to 17. The command also authorized 24 additional civilian positions, although those billets have not yet been filled.
"We're in the process of bringing those people on, because, as you can imagine, the skills required to do what we're asking takes some time to develop," Colonel Boltz said. "Those 24 billets will serve as the foundation that will allow us to continue what we're doing and then build upon it."
Next, AFSPC allocated funds for JSpOC to double their computing capacity, increasing the number of servers they use by two. Lastly, procedures had to change.
"We've certainly refined our procedures and developed the relationships that we have with the various owners and operators of these satellites," Colonel Boltz said. "Since February 2009, owners/operators have maneuvered 46 times to avoid debris based on the data that we've provided, which is pretty neat. The goal is to give the owners/operators, U.S. government agencies, private industries, and other countries, as much lead time as they can possibly get so they can thoroughly plan out how they're going to react to that situation."
Being able to provide this service to U.S. government and international space users was made possible not only by the efforts of Air Force leadership and personnel, but through a total force effort. Specialists from the Army, Navy and Marines, as well as DoD civilians and contractors, all worked to achieve this goal.
"You can give us all the servers you want and you can change all the procedures you want, but when it comes down to it, it's people that affect the change," Colonel Boltz said. "If it wasn't for the hard work and dedication of all those people, active duty military of all branches, government civilians and contractors, we could not have done this. Together, we're making history."