GPS satellite approaching 23 years on orbit

50th Space Wing
Courtesy Story

Date: 11.25.2013
Posted: 11.25.2013 18:44
News ID: 117365
GPS satellite approaching 23 years on orbit

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - As members of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron recognize and celebrate Global Positioning System Satellite Vehicle Number-23's 23rd birthday Nov. 26, they'll do so with fond memories of the satellite's service to military and civilian users throughout the world. <br /> <br /> Launched on Nov. 26, 1990, SVN-23 gave military and civilian users another tool for determining position, navigation and timing, but during its 20-plus-year life, it also represented the GPS team 2 SOPS' ingenuity, innovation and problem-solving abilities. <br /> <br /> One of the first GPS Block IIA vehicles to reach orbit, SVN-23 represented the latest GPS technology and introduced new sensors and longer lasting data processing memory.<br /> <br /> Ted Mogey worked in the squadron as a contractor engineer and Mark Drake served as a satellite vehicle operator. Mogey and Drake powered up SVN-23's payload for the first time in 1990 and still support the vehicle today. <br /> <br /> This is more than another birthday. Boeing engineers designed SVN-23 to perform its duties for more than 7 years. In operation for more than three times its expected life, SVN-23 still orbits Earth twice every day, providing position, navigation and timing to approximately 3 billion users worldwide. <br /> <br /> Its longevity of service has had its share of challenges. <br /> <br /> On Dec. 23, 1993, 2 SOPs operators noticed something amiss. Analysts and engineers in the squadron eventually determined that one of the vehicle's solar-array wings had suffered an electronics malfunction, so manual positioning [or slewing] of its arrays ensued for many years. <br /> <br /> "Remarkably, the 2 SOPS/2nd Space Control Squadron team kept finding ways to keep the satellite operating," said Lt. Col. Matthew Brandt, 2 SOPS director of operations. "By the end of 2001, they determined the arrays had degraded to the point that SVN-23 could no longer be operated under a slewing regime."<br /> <br /> The vehicle was transferred to the 1st Space Operations Squadron for anomaly and disposal operations. Engineers put its solar arrays into dormant mode and turned off the satellite's payload.<br /> <br /> During the next few years, however, 2 SOPS team members figured out a way to solve the problem. They recalled the satellite from 1 SOPS and powered the payload back up in June 2007.<br /> <br /> It has been providing GPS signals ever since. In fact, it features the most accurate time keeping of any GPS IIA vehicle on orbit. <br /> <br /> "We've reached a point in space operations, much like in the flying community, that our satellites are sometimes older than their operators," said Lt. Col. Thomas Ste. Marie, 2 SOPS commander. "I was a member of 2 SOPS as a second lieutenant when this satellite flew past its design life in 1998. It's simply amazing that a vehicle designed to last seven and half years has made it to its 23rd birthday. It is a credit to the operators, analysts, maintainers and engineers on both the government and contractor sides who all worked to diligently to preserve its mission capabilities."