Ka’ena Point Satellite Tracking Station: Celebrating 59 years of service


Maj. Edmond Chan, commander of Detachment 3, 21st Space Operations Squadron. (Courtesy photo)

"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."

- Henry Ford

On Feb. 28, 2018, Ka’ena Point Satellite Tracking Station celebrated 59 years of service in space operations. The tracking station, located on Ka’ena Point above Keawa’ula Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, is one of seven Air Force Satellite Control Network sites enabling satellite command and control use for launch and on-orbit operations to more than 185 Department of Defense, allied and civil space systems.

KPSTS occupies a 153-acre property managed by Detachment 3, 21st Space Operations Squadron.  Current operations and sustainment personnel provide 24/7 manning for telemetry, tracking and commanding capabilities to worldwide satellite operators.

Additionally, 18 civil engineer, federal and contracted employees provide maintenance and sustainment of property infrastructure.  Multiple memorandum of agreements with Hickam Air Force Base, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Navy Facilities Engineering Command are in place to assist with force protection and other base operations support activities.     

Satellite operations at KPSTS began on 59 years ago in support of the now declassified Discoverer Program; the nation’s first reconnaissance satellite.  Discoverer was developed to photograph areas of interest around the world, including denied territory inside the former Soviet Union, Cuba, China and other areas from 1959 until May 1972.  The first successful reconnaissance photography recovery from orbit was Discoverer-13 and the retrieval mission took place just northwest of Oahu.

The initial system installed at KPSTS included three antennas as part of a five station network to support the Discoverer Program. Today, KPSTS consists of two main AFSCN antennas, various communications support and numerous mission partners.  In 2017, the AFSCN supported more than 162,022 satellite contacts and operators at Ka’ena Point executed over 20,000 of those.

AFSCN antennas support TT&C of 50-60 satellite contacts per day.  This means data is retrieved and relay commands such as an on-orbit maneuvering or re-programming of the satellites on-board processors.  In addition, AFSCN contacts can be used to extrapolate the “true” location of a satellite in space at any given time. 

Throughout the years, the station has gone through many changes to include upgraded equipment and improved infrastructure but a few constants at KPSTS have always been commitment, dedication and pride. To celebrate the 59th Anniversary, the detachment will invite retired KPSTS alumni for a formal luncheon and festivity at the site.  Many residents of the West Oahu Coast have been a part of the Ka’ena Point Satellite Tracking Station ohana (family) during its long and storied history.  In fact, a majority of the CE and administrative personnel have been at the site for 30-50 years.  This speaks volumes to the commitment to excellence the men and women of KPSTS display every single day.