During the last six months, the squadron added the second and third Block II Wideband Global SATCOM vehicles to its fleet of communication satellites. Since those vehicles have eight times the capacity of legacy Defense Satellite Communications System vehicles and modernized communications capabilities,
"We started this project nine months ago," said Capt.
The wideband communications system of satellites consists of six advanced WGS vehicles and eight legacy DSCS vehicles. Together, they provide flexible, high-capacity communications for U.S. forces throughout the world, while enabling battle management and combat support information functions.
The optimization effort began after the Wideband Constellation Sustainment Assessment team proposed possible optimization plans to the squadron. The 3 SOPS orbital analysis team then conducted feasibility studies for the proposals and determined multiple courses of action for each spacecraft.
"It was a daunting task," Shull said. "Some of these satellite moves involved large-scale relocations equal to 177,000 miles of movement in geostationary orbit. We had to create an optimization plan and collision avoidance plan for each vehicle, then, determine where we could safely operate at the proposed location and how to safely move there."
Squadron engineers had to pay close attention to deconflicting telemetry, tracking and command links when shuffling multiple vehicles across one another. They also had to coordinate with Army Strategic Command's Wideband Consolidated Satellite Support Element to ensure communication users continued to have access to critical communication links.
"More than 400 satellites operate in the geostationary belt," Shull said. "We're sharing space, which means we must perform daily conjunction assessments and take occasional emergency actions to avoid collisions."
The 3 SOPS orbital analysis team consists of active duty officers and enlisted members, as well specialized orbital analysis contractors from the
Shull explained that moving the satellites, which reside in geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles above the equator, involves using the vehicles' onboard propulsion systems to drift the satellites east and west.
"We're still in the process of optimizing and will be moving a few more vehicles," Shull said. "The optimization initiative is slated for completion in late February when the squadron will halt DSCS B13 for the final time."
This optimization initiative is unprecedented in the WGS era of wideband communications.
"Our operations tempo last year included two launches that required seven WGS operators to support launch and early orbit operations during an eight month period," said Lt. Col.
Igl called the initiative a truly monumental undertaking, in part because DSCS and WGS vehicles have unique propulsion systems.
"Each vehicle has its own personality," he said. "Without the expertise of the military and contractor expertise on the team, accomplishing this effort flawlessly would not have been possible."
The 14-satellite DSCS and WGS Wideband Constellation represents
"As the commander, I put a tremendous amount of trust in the individuals selected to become orbital analysts," Igl said. "Because of their extensive training, I know they will perform to the best of their abilities to ensure the satellites I put in there care are protected and able to provide vital communications to warfighters around the world.
Looking back on 2013, I knew the members of 3 SOPS were going to be very busy. The two newest WGS satellites now provide worldwide WGS coverage and
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