SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Once a year, members from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration travel from Suitland, Maryland, to Schriever AFB to work side-by-side with the 6th Space Operations Squadron for Continuity of Operations training. 6 SOPS, a Reserve squadron and part of the 310th Space Wing on Schriever, specializes in operating the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites.
DMSP satellites aid in planning military operations in the air, on land and at sea by providing tactical weather predictions and environmental intelligence.
“The most important aspect of this mission is getting accurate weather data to warfighters,” said Master Sgt. Christian Hess, a 6 SOPS crew chief participating in his seventh COOP.
Operation of the DMSP satellites represents a unique partnership between NOAA, 6 SOPS and the 50th Operations Group, Detachment 1. The members of 50 OG Det. 1 oversee day-to-day DMSP operations as well as organize and plan major events like the COOP. NOAA personnel are the main operators of the DMSP satellites, and 6 SOPS provides backup in the event that NOAA’s systems become inoperable.
“During this event, we’ll cut communication lines to NOAA’s systems for the longest period ever attempted,” said Lt. Col. Paxton Mellinger, 6 SOPS commander. “We want to test ourselves, as the backup to NOAA’s system, to make sure we’re meeting all mission requirements in a worst-case scenario.”
The speed of the DMSP satellites is one of the challenges operators face during these missions.
“Because it’s lower in orbit, we have less time to respond to anomalies,” said Hess. “When we work with high flying satellites, we have minutes or even hours. With the DMSP satellites moving at close to 18,000 miles per hour, we have to respond within seconds.”
With an impending personnel changeover, the squadron will be losing 84 years of experience as more seasoned individuals head out the door. In order to keep up with mission requirements, new individuals are being trained on how to fly the DMSP satellite.
“I’m currently in training here,” said Capt. Bradley Cole, “And I’ve never worked with low flyers, so some of this is fast paced. In the last few days we’ve learned how to interact with the Air Force Satellite Control Network, how to set up our console, do nominal satellite support and troubleshoot ground systems.”
Overall, Cole states, working side-by-side with the NOAA operators has been a smooth transition for 6 SOPS personnel. With continued training events like the COOP, the squadron aims to keep operations between the two organizations as seamless as possible.