Press Release

SBIRS instructors hold keys to ground floor of new payload

By SpaceRef Editor
January 10, 2007
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Future Space Based Infrared Systems crews will get in on the ground level of Air Force Space Command’s most advanced payload when they begin training at the 460th Operations Group Detachment 1 here Jan. 12.

Training on SBIRS’ newest satellite will give students a historic chance to involve themselves with a new mission at the ground level, said Capt. Paul Contoveros, Det. 1’s chief of operations training and lead instructor.

“I think we’re all really excited to be part of such a new, groundbreaking system,” Captain Contoveros said. “It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity.

“We’ll be providing some of the most accurate missile warning data once this is complete — even better than (the Defense Support Program),” he added. “DSP’s a proven system, extremely useful. This will be a step above that; it will provide more honed, more accurate data.”

The SBIRS satellite is parked in an inclined and highly elliptical orbit, which carries it from 300 miles above the earth to geosynchronous orbit and back every 12 hours. This gives operators better data at higher latitudes on the earth’s surface. It is also more sensitive, allowing Airmen to detect fainter missile launches and pinpoint them with greater accuracy.

“In addition, we have a taskable sensor,” Captain Contoveros said. “We can point the sensor wherever we like to capture targets of opportunity.” The taskable sensor makes the new SBIRS satellite unique within AFSPC, something the captain said he hopes students will enjoy.

Ten Airmen from around AFSPC, many of them cross-trainees, will begin training on SBIRS here. Training will begin Jan.12 for crew commanders and crew chiefs. System crew chiefs and mission management operators and planners will begin training Jan. 16.

Each position will learn something different in the class, Captain Contoveros said. System crew chiefs will learn the ins and outs of the payload and ground system. Mission crew chiefs will learn how to interpret technical data from the satellite into missile warning and battlespace situational awareness. Mission management operators and planners will learn how to take advantage of the taskable sensor to schedule targets of opportunity. Lastly, crew commanders will receive familiarization on all other aspects of the mission and will learn how to combine the parts into an effective team.

“We’re working closely with our partners at the Combined Task Force (in northern Colorado),” the captain said. Students will go on site for one week to learn what aspects of SBIRS have changed since the instructors finished their lesson plan. In addition, instructors meet once a week with the Combined Task Force to talk about new SBIRS developments.

“The training will continue to evolve because we’re still in a testing phase,” he said. “Things change from day to day. Software continues to be honed. Testing continues to be successful, and as testing is successful, new tests begin, and procedures and software changes depending on the results.”

The new SBIRS satellite received a clean bill of health in November after space operators completed initial early on-orbit checkout of the satellite’s systems.

The sensor is designed to detect ballistic missile launches such as ICBMs and Scud missiles. However, its application is not limited to missile launches. It can also detect large explosions and fires, which may make it a valuable tool for other government agencies.

A second highly elliptical orbit satellite was delivered in September 2005; the launch date has not been released. Two SBIRS geosynchronous satellites are scheduled to launch in 2008 and 2009.

SpaceRef staff editor.