Satellite operators keep space players in line

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jessica D'Ambrosio
  • 926th Wing Public Affairs

Located behind a warehouse on the Colorado hillside, satellite communications technicians from the 379th Space Range Squadron are busy setting up satellites for the military’s only Space and Test Training Range, located at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

The STTR enables units to exercise space capabilities in a secure and realistic environment while eliminating the risk of unintended collateral effects. The range simulates a target, weapon system and atmosphere for training and rapid reaction prototype development.

“Historically, space operations have been happening in a benign environment,” said Lt. Col. Keith Sudder, 926th Operations Group deputy commander. “Thirty years ago there was very little SATCOM going on beyond the military. Now it’s a global phenomenon with people using the capability in their day-to-day life.”

“Operators need to develop tactics to overcome obstacles in contested space, whether they’re due to military interference or commercial bleed over,” he said.

SATCOM technicians in the 379th SRS are responsible for developing techniques and refining parameters that allow space operators to test those tactics. They provide bandwidth for entities like Air Force tactical air controllers and contingency responders, but also for agencies outside the Department of Defense that require a place to conduct space activities.

“We ensure customers are using the correct frequencies and provide them with feedback,” said Tech. Sgt. Tyler Martin, 379th Space Range Squadron radio frequency transmissions technician. “We liken it to being referees of a football game – we provide the field, draw the chalk lines and keep players within bounds.”

Martin used to be a ground radio operator until the career field merged with SATCOM airfield systems and radar. Now he, along with more than 60 reservists, work side-by-side their active-duty counterparts in the 25th Space Range Squadron, as the sole units in DoD responsible for operating the range.

Together the 379th SRS and 25th SRS provide an environment for offensive and defensive space operators to practice in a realistic way.
They participate in exercises like Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in order to hone their skills. Pilots fly over the base’s Nevada Test and Training Range executing their air-to-air and air-to-ground combat skills, while SATCOM technicians work the STTR.

“It’s evolution,” said Martin. “At the start of World War I, no one fought in the air. Then pilots starting bringing pistols into the planes, then guns were added to the planes. Today we work in a contested air space, so we need an STTR. And the STTR wouldn’t exist without the NTTR.”

The mission used to only have fixed systems, but expanded because of Red Flag. Now they can deploy worldwide.

The 379th SRS’ mission assurance office can cover all stateside operations from Schriever AFB. If a customer needs to cover a different footprint, equipment can be packaged up and taken to that respective location.

The package entails a ground multi-band terminal system – two antennas, one 2.4 meter, and one 3.7 meter dish, a signal control module, amplification and monitoring capabilities, a modem, fiber, antenna controller and laptop.

The modems and frequencies are set up so that a signal goes to the intended satellite. The technicians point the dish to where they believe the satellite is and then scan the sky for the transponder beacon frequency. Once that signal is found, they lock onto it and transmit an on-air picture of the assets in that area.

This process helps members of the air, space and cyberspace community train to defeat enemies in a contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environment. The STTR is vital to exercising space forces and their missions to protect and defend Air Force assets.