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4 SOPS assumes control of first WGS satellite

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 4th Space Operations Squadron assumed control of its first wideband global SATCOM satellite during a ceremony July 14.

While there are eight other WGS satellites currently orbiting in the constellation managed by 4 SOPS, WGS-9 marked the first time the newly merged squadron assumed control of one. Previous assumptions of control happened under the recently deactivated 3rd Space Operations Squadron.

“Similar to what the F-35 is to the flying community, the WGS spacecraft is the new thing in military satellite communications – it’s the top of the line,” said Lt. Col. Armon Lansing. “There is no other spacecraft in the world that does what this one does.”

As the backbone of the U.S. military's global satellite communications, WGS provides flexible, high-capacity communications for the nation's warfighters through procurement and operation of the satellite constellation and the associated control systems.

WGS provides worldwide flexible, high data rate and long-haul communications for marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, the White House Communication Agency, the U.S. State Department, international partners and other special users.

“Wideband communication provides the capability to send a large amount of data through space,” Lansing said. “Just like your typical ground systems: dial-up versus broadband versus fiber optic … as you step up your capability, you can get more data through the system. One WGS satellite has as much data throughput as the former defense support communication satellite system had in the entire constellation.”

1st Lt. Steven Ramos, 4 SOPS satellite engineer, is impressed by the capabilities brought on by the new satellite.

“WGS increases the bandwidth of that constellation by about 13 percent,” Ramos said. “Just having that additional bandwidth allows us to support more users. Having more users to be able to get the mission done on the ground is a huge advantage to the warfighter.”

The satellite’s acquisition was not without significant effort from multiple parties, with Boeing having launched it in March. The spacecraft underwent rigorous orbit and payload testing before being handed over to the Air Force.

“To look across all the effort and work that it took, from the contractor who built it, to the people who launched it, to us receiving it, there is a lot of pride in bringing on this capability,” Lansing said. “It’s not just here comes number nine. It’s the ninth time we’re doing it, but a first for us.”

According to Lansing, an additional advantage the satellite brings is the ability to put more military users on a military satellite.

“The majority of our satellite communications even within the military have to rely on commercial satellites,” Lansing said. “We just have so much need that there isn’t enough capability up there. The introduction of WGS-9 allows us more capability to put those military users on a military network. Even as we increase capability, it’s very difficult to keep up with the need. While it won’t detract from what we need on the commercial side, it gives us more capability on the military side.”

The Air Force originally ordered six of the satellites from Boeing, but the speed, success and demand drove the purchase of four additional satellites.

“Advanced extremely high frequency would be at DSL speeds, this is beyond fiber optic speeds,” Lansing said.

Lansing saw the assumption of control as a way his newly merged team to crystalize.

“I think it’s going to be a pride thing for the entire crew,” Lansing said. “With the pride and comradery, the crews are very excited. I think the satellite vehicle operators take particular pride in this satellite.”

Ramos agreed with his commander.

“The comradery is definitely there, especially now that we’re all on the same ops floor,” Ramos said. “We talk back and forth as we learn about each other’s systems. There is a sense of team in that we’re all supporting similar missions.”

Senior Airman Elisha Patterson, 4 SOPS space vehicle evaluator, had the opportunity to send the first contact to the satellite.

“It was a great feeling,” Patterson said. “It went very smoothly. It was an honor to have that type of privilege.”

The Air Force is scheduled to receive its 10th WGS satellite sometime in 2018.