The 2nd Space Operations Squadron initiated the disposal of the last operational GPS IIA satellite, satellite vehicle number 34, April 13 to 20, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
The GPS satellite program currently uses 31 satellite vehicles to transmit precise position, navigation and timing signals to more than 6 billion users around the world.
To support the U.S. Air Force’s GPS III modernization efforts, 2nd SOPS operators phase out older models to make room for the new GPS III satellites. The disposal of SVN-34 marks the end of a 26.5 year era in which the satellite outlived its 7.5 year design life by 19 years.
Units conduct satellite disposals when a satellite reaches the end of its operational life and no longer requires daily caretaking and maintenance. Once SVN-34 is in its final orbit, 2 SOPS will hand over full tracking responsibility to the 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, California, where it will be treated and catalogued like every other space object.
Capt. Angela Tomasek, 2nd SOPS GPS mission engineering and analysis flight commander, said that as the organization continuesto manage the influx of GPS III (the newest iteration of GPS satellites) and maintaining other vehicles in a residual status, the team must be cognizant of effective risk management. As SVN-34 continued to age, 2nd SOPS had to manage its aging components and likelihood of having a critical malfunction. 2nd SOPS reached a stage where the organization is confident in the robustness of the overall GPS constellation to remove the last remaining IIA vehicle. The Captain added, “We push the satellite vehicle to a higher, less congested, ‘disposal orbit’ to eliminate the probability of collision with other active satellites. [Then,] the vehicle is put into a safe configuration by depleting the leftover fuel and battery life and shutting off the satellite vehicle transmitters so no one else can access the satellite in the future.”
Lt. Col. Stephen Toth, 2nd SOPS commander, added that this disposal marks the end of an era in GPS history. There are senior leaders and long-time contractors [who] launched and operated the IIA satellites at the beginning of their careers [who] are now here to see it end. It is an opportunity to reflect on the legacy and heritage of 2 SOPS and GPS to see how far we have come.