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The 6th Space Warning Squadron: Eye in the sky for 21st Space Wing


As many of us tackle the nuances of working from home, we’re reminded that not everyone has this privilege. In the small town of Bourne, Massachusetts, a Phased Array Warning System Updated Early Warning Radar sits with a beautiful view of the New England coast. Within it, many people come together to ensure the missions of Cape Cod Air Force Station’s 6th Space Warning Squadron are achieved.

The Pave PAWS radar is responsible for detecting sea-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Upon missile detection, the crew must assess system indications to determine validity, number of launched vehicles, and convey the anticipated impact points to the United States and its allies. This includes monitoring launches out of locations such as Cape Canaveral, Florida, for safe transport of satellites to their final orbits. Additionally, 6 SWS at Cape Cod AFS collects orbital data on satellites in low earth orbit to maintain space domain awareness and that are critical for the preservation of the space environment while monitoring for space debris, satellite reentries, and orbit deviations, including objects such as the International Space Station.

Six SWS provides support for one of the United States Space Force’s critical assigned missions in space domain awareness; (e.g. tracking space objects that orbit Earth). Recently, the guardians of 6 SWS provided vital support to NASA’s human space flight activities onboard the International Space Station. Six SWS’s Pave PAWS radar was the first of multiple 21st Operations Group’s Ground Based Radars to track and provide launch information for the Dragon CRS-20 spacecraft onboard a Falcon 9 rocket, whose mission is to resupply astronauts onboard the ISS. The team of 6 SWS space professionals manning this important radar was a total-force team that includes active duty, government civilians, and contractors. This team was not only able to track the Dragon spacecraft during its launch out of Cape Canaveral, but also was able to provide positional data multiple times a day to many users throughout its transit to, docking, and undocking with the ISS. This support culminated with the successful atmospheric reentry and splash down for the CRS-20 in the Pacific Ocean on April 7, 2020.

Additional important work is being done at the site. Since March 1, 2020, the crews at 6 SWS have logged over 900 man-hours, collecting thousands of observations on other important orbital space objects such as SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, a constellation of 360 internet-providing satellites that SpaceX plans to increase to more than 12,000 when complete. The team at 6 SWS will remain busy ensuring the safety of those satellites.

While the crews are conducting operations, they have multiple support personnel helping them keep the mission going, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between the radar experts keeping the system operational, the satellite communication members ensuring uninterrupted communication, and security forces protecting every member completing these jobs, Cape Cod AFS keeps watch to ensure our safety.

Running concurrently with these operations are those done by members teleworking from home. Whether it’s ensuring crews have the resources they need to succeed, or training and evaluating new operators, Team 6 is adjusting to continue its no-fail missions.

Despite the chaos of what we see on the news, the public should rest easy knowing that 6 SWS, and other radar states around the country, are working hard to ensure the safety of our great nation and our allies.

Editor’s note: This is the first product in a three-part series on the 6th Space Warning Squadron.


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