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18 SPCS certifies first United Kingdom operator

Photo of Cpl Mitchell Astbury holding up the Space Operations Badge he earned

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Royal Air Force Cpl. Mitchell Astbury displays the Space Operations Badge he earned while assigned to the 18th Space Control Squadron during a pinning ceremony Aug. 7, 2020. Astbury is the first British exchange officer to qualify as an orbital analyst in 18 SPCS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Aubree Owens)


With the standup of the United States Space Force and advancing technology in the space field, international cooperation in Space Domain Awareness is important in today’s increasingly space-oriented world. In July 2019, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Defence announced that the U.K. had become the first international partner in the U.S. Space Command’s Operation Olympic Defender. Two Royal Air Force corporals were assigned to Space Delta 2’s 18th Space Control Squadron in August 2019 as a result of this partnership.

On July 20, 2020, RAF Cpl. Mitchell Astbury became the first U.K. exchange officer to qualify as an orbital analyst in the 18 SPCS.

“I’m pleased to announce that I certified our first U.K. operator,” said Lt. Col. Justin Sorice, 18 SPCS commander. “Cpl. Mitch Astbury is now an orbital analyst ready to provide frontline defense of the space domain for the joint force, multinational partners and humanity.”

This makes the 18 SPCS a tri-national operations squadron, as they already included Canadian military personnel. Astbury said a Canadian captain helped train him during the certification process.

“She let me get hands on training during three months of live console training on a system called SPADOC (Space Defense Operations Center), and also provided lessons during shifts,” said Astbury.

He also completed a two-week Astrodynamic Support Workstation course. Astbury was also supposed to attend a two-week SPADOC course, but this was canceled due to COVID-19, so he worked independently to get himself up to speed. During his training, he produced a mission planning guide that is now the standard for 18 SPCS personnel to use when creating briefing documents, and created an online training lesson that is briefed to current and new squadron personnel to improve understanding of the mission planning process.

“People are at the centre of our space strategy and I am delighted Corporal Astbury has excelled in his training with U.S. and Canadian colleagues,” said Air Commodore James Linter, the U.K.’s Air and Space AttachĂ© to the U.S. “I congratulate him on an impressive achievement and the great work he has undertaken since embedding with U.S. Space Command.”

Astbury’s determination to obtain this certification and have a career in space operations stems from an adoration of space that started when he was 8 years old.

“Constellations were my fascination and I constantly went out looking for figures in the sky,” Astbury said. “One night I saw a fast moving object and told my teacher what I saw. She told me it may have been a satellite, and from then on I was captivated by space exploration. Why are they up there? How do they keep it up there? I needed answers.”

Astbury joined the RAF in 2008 with the intention of pursuing those answers and his dream of working in aerospace.

“It was always my goal to be posted to RAF Fylingdales, as I knew their role 90 percent of the time was the detection and tracking of orbiting objects,” said Astbury. “I learned so much in my five years there working within the unique phased array radar.”

He was excited to be selected to represent the UK space cadre as an orbital analyst for the 18 SPCS.

“To have the opportunity to distribute my sensor knowledge and to be one of the two British personnel working on the operations floor doing so is an honor,” Astbury said. “To be a part of an expanding space force, getting to watch new launches and missions really is remarkable and I am so thankful for my experience.”

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