by Tech. Sgt. Stephen J. Collier
310th Space Wing Public Affairs
2/27/2014 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo -- This winter marked the 15th year of the Air Force Reserve's operational involvement in the Defense Metrologic Satellite Program.
In conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 6th Space Operations Squadron,
the AF Reserve's sole operational space squadron, works together with
both their non-Department of Defense counterpart and the 50th Operation
Group's Detachment 1 to oversee the nation's weather satellite
Known as a "hot backup" to the mission, the 6th SOPS has fulfilled its
role as a supporting organization to NOAA since 1999. NOAA officials
operate the weather satellite "constellation" that circles the planet in
a low-earth orbit and travels at speeds as fast as Mach 25. While NOAA
operates the mission in Suitland, Md., 6th SOPS Citizen Airmen stand by
to take over the mission of monitoring telemetry data and downloading
timely weather information from the satellites as they cross the earth's
horizon, all the while communicating in tight windows from tracking
station to tracking station globally with the satellites as they orbit
For the squadron's flight commander Maj. Jeremy Edwards, celebrating
more than a decade of fulfilling the weather satellite mission "is
definitely a milestone."
"Considering that 15 years ago, Reservists only played a small role in
space, this is important for us," Edwards said. "Many of the early cadre
of Reserve personnel came from 6th SOPS when it was an active duty
unit, so the legacy and importance of the mission was inherited from day
The history of the squadron stretches back to its time as an active duty
organization with the designation of the 4000th Support Group in
February 1963 under the then-Strategic Air Command at Offutt AFB, Neb.
Since then, the 6th SOPS has gone through several designations and
reassignments, most notably under Air Force Space Command in 1983. It
wouldn't be until 1992 when the 6th SOPS would come to life under its
"DMSP's history relates back to the Cold War, and although threats have
changed, the fundamental reasons DMSP was launched have not," explained
Edwards. "Equipment and personnel are all susceptible to weather and
despite the vast technological advances since the first DMSP launch, the
need for accurate, timely weather data continues to grow."
On the other side of the country, NOAA operators work hand-in-hand with
their 6th SOPS counterparts to ensure weather satellite operations never
miss a beat. In the event communication is lost with NOAA, 6th SOPS
personnel must be ready to take over the mission at a moment's notice.
Thus, the squadron's personnel and NOAA operators are in constant
communication daily, ready to provide that support if needed.
Jim Mussmann, a NOAA senior aerospace engineering technician with the
DMSP mission, said that working with the 6th SOPS, as with any
relationship, communication is essential.
"We are always a quick phone call or e-mail away from each other," said
Mussmann, who has been with NOAA for more than nine years. "With the
nature of the beast that is the military, you never know who you might
reach on the other line, but 6th SOPS has a strong tradition of
maintaining a highly proficient operations standard."
Mussmann also knows the 6th SOPS mission very intimately. A former Air
Force Reserve member himself, Mussmann served as a traditional reservist
with the squadron from 2002 to 2008. He credits the opportunity to work
for NOAA from his time with the 6th SOPS and its weather satellite
"I have plenty of fond memories working with the 6th SOPS," Mussmann
said. "The squadron has a long tradition of taking in good people and
grooming them to become sharp operators. The world of satellite
operations can sometimes seem sort of routine, but we must always be
prepared for the worst. During times when we need to turn the mission
over (to the military), the ability to trust your counterparts is
critical. Whether that be a natural disaster, a physical security issue
or a system failure, it is crucial to know that the people on the other
end, 2,000 miles away, can seamlessly take over on the drop of the dime
and pick-up right where you left off, without missing a beat. Once or
twice a year, we get an opportunity to travel and physically work side
by side with each other.
"It is those times when you can put a face with a name and a voice that really keep the relationship strong."
A relationship that undoubtedly will last at least another 15 years.