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2 SOPS adapts new disposal approval process

Members of the SVN-39 disposal team from the 2nd, 19th and 22nd Space Operations Squadrons, 50th Network Operations Group, Aerospace Corporation and Boeing await cake on the 2 SOPS operations floor after at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, the ceremonial final command was sent to SVN-39 at the completion of the vehicle’s disposal Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. SVN-39 was in operational orbit for almost 23 years – three times its original design life. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart)

Members of the SVN-39 disposal team from the 2nd, 19th and 22nd Space Operations Squadrons, 50th Network Operations Group, Aerospace Corporation and Boeing await cake on the 2 SOPS operations floor after at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, the ceremonial final command was sent to SVN-39 at the completion of the vehicle’s disposal Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. SVN-39 was in operational orbit for almost 23 years – three times its original design life. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart)

Joe Carberry, Boeing satellite bus lead engineer, sends the ceremonial final command to SVN-39 during the completion of the vehicle’s disposal, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, on the 2nd Space Operations Squadron operations floor at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. In spite of its recent issues, the almost 23-year-old satellite has financially benefited the Air Force and the U.S. throughout its lifetime by allowing 2 SOPS to stretch out replenishment launches for the GPS constellation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart)

Joe Carberry, Boeing satellite bus lead engineer, sends the ceremonial final command to SVN-39 during the completion of the vehicle’s disposal, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, on the 2nd Space Operations Squadron operations floor at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. In spite of its recent issues, the almost 23-year-old satellite has financially benefited the Air Force and the U.S. throughout its lifetime by allowing 2 SOPS to stretch out replenishment launches for the GPS constellation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The process for satellite disposals has just gotten easier for the unit with one of the most robust satellite constellations in the Department of Defense - just in time to say goodbye to space vehicle 39, Sept. 21.

The 2nd Space Operations Squadron has set a new standard for disposing of satellites as they continue to modernize the GPS constellation. To streamline the process, 2 SOPS leaned on the 19th Space Operations Squadron's experience with launch operations along with the entire GPS team: 14th Air Force, 50th Network Operations Group, 22nd Space Operations Squadron and contractors from Aerospace and Boeing.  

"With the help of 19 SOPS, our disposal process mirrors the extremely effective launch process and we already witnessed the benefits of this new process during our recent SVN-39 disposal," said Capt. Aaron Blain, 2 SOPS GPS Analysis Flight commander. "Our goal is for people to understand that the risk levels encountered during a disposal are similar to launches.

The disposal of SVN-39 is the third SV disposal in a year and by far this is the smoothest thanks to the hard work from all our mission partners."

Members of 2 and 19 SOPS control the GPS satellite constellation which was comprised of 40 satellites however, that number has decreased by one as the team used this new process to dispose of a satellite, that was more than 20 years old.

"This satellite has lasted three times the design life," said Blain. "This particular bird had a lingering issue that is uncorrectable. It was high risk so we disposed of it."

The team completed the disposal of SVN-39 Sept. 21 as Joe Carberry, Boeing satellite bus lead engineer, sent the ceremonial final command to the vehicle.

"I've had a long history with this particular vehicle," said Carberry. "It's taught us some good lessons and we've been able to carry those lessons forward and teach others from the experience with this vehicle."

In spite of its recent issues, the almost 23-year-old satellite has financially benefited the Air Force and the U.S. throughout its lifetime.

"The vehicle has performed well over its [lifespan], and because it has lasted so long it has allowed us to stretch out our replenishment launches which have been a direct savings to the U.S. taxpayers," said Mike O'Brien, Aerospace Corporation lead technical advisor for GPS operations.

The powered down vehicle will continue to orbit the Earth in its disposal orbit roughly 1,000 km higher than the operational GPS constellation and will continue to provide a financial benefit.

"[Disposals] save money for the Air Force...we aren't using time on the antennas anymore to contact [these] satellites and we aren't using our time to keep an unhealthy satellite healthy and functioning," said 1st Lt. Christopher Shepherd, GPS Subsystem Analysis Flight section chief.

2 SOPS and the whole GPS team are working to optimize the constellation as part of the GPS modernization plan which will involve additional disposals by 2019.
"In all, we are looking to dispose of 10 satellites," said Blain.

Currently 2 SOPS is switching its focus to perform maintenance on their remaining satellites and prepare for an upcoming launch next month.

"It's a very exciting time for 2 SOPS," said Blain. "The accomplishment of disposing of another satellite was only possible due to the hard work and diligence from all our mission partners; the NOG, 22 SOPS, 19 SOPS, Aerospace and Boeing."
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