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Bringing actionable awareness to the fight

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. – Capt. Erin Salinas, 20th Space Control Squadron Detachment 1 commander, and Col. Doug Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander, visited Det. 1 near Socorro, N.M., Sept. 5, 2016. Det. 1 is a geographically separated unit of the 21st SW and was the first operational location in the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. – Capt. Erin Salinas, 20th Space Control Squadron Detachment 1 commander, and Col. Doug Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander, visited Det. 1 near Socorro, N.M., Sept. 5, 2016. Det. 1 is a geographically separated unit of the 21st SW and was the first operational location in the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System. (Courtesy photo)

SOCCORRO, N.M. -- SOCCORRO, N.M. – Various satellites, abandoned test objects and debris make up thousands of objects floating through space. With that kind of activity overhead, it is reassuring to know someone is keeping an eye on all of that activity.

Detachment 1, 20th Space Control Squadron, 21st Operations Group, located near Socorro, New Mexico, was the first operational location in the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System. It is a geographically separated unit of the 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Along with two other GEODSS sites in in Maui, Hawaii, and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and a phased-array radar at Eglin AFB, Florida, much of near space is monitored in a given 24-hour period.

The Det. 1 team monitors space by finding, fixing, and tracking approximately 2,000 man-made objects in deep space and conducting approximately 60 space object/target identifications every month. The site brings actionable space situational awareness to the fight.

“What that means,” said Capt. Erin Salinas, Detachment 1 commander, “Is that our data is used by decision-makers to identify threats both natural and man-made, predict or detect threatening actions, find lost objects, maintain element set data, and help leaders take protective actions.”

Recently, Salinas said, the detachment partnered with 18th SPCS, out of Vandenberg AFB, California, to help locate objects associated with VELA 7 & 8 satellites, which were used to monitor the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union. The GEODSS discovered four objects associated with VELA. The objects were lost for 48 years and one was never cataloged.

“The mission system tagged the objects as uncorrelated targets,” said Salinas. “The 18th SPCS analysts were able to develop an element set using observations from 20th SPCS detachments 1 and 3.”

Having the telescope located in a distant, desert location is beneficial for viewing space with a high-tech telescopic system. For Salinas and the dozen contractors working with her, it has some benefit too. Being part of a GSU develops a close working environment.

“Since we are so small, we have a chance to get well acquainted with everyone else on-site,” Salinas said. “It never feels like we are on our own since we are constantly in communication with 20th SPCS and the other detachments.”

The distance doesn’t prevent the Det. 1 crew from feeling like part of the bigger team. Salinas is in daily communication with squadron staff and attends staff meetings and mentoring sessions through teleconferencing.

“Even though we’re a GSU, we still feel very much part of a close-knit team,” she said.

Det. 1 is located on the White Sands Missile Range about 15 miles away from the Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was tested July 16, 1945. The Trinity Site itself is a national historic landmark, but White Sands is still an active non-nuclear test range. The detachment is located across a parking lot from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs where the original atomic bomb technology was developed.

Det. 1 and the other 20th SPCS GEODSS units may be remotely located, yet provide more than half the gathered data from deep space targets and more than 30 percent on near-earth targets.

“We can’t all see the same sky, but we all do the same mission. We work together on innovations, projects, and even object hand-offs,” said Salinas. “Combined with the three other 20th SPCS locations, we are the premiere space surveillance squadron. No other squadron comes close.”

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui