Cosmic Guinea Pig

Preparing to decommission a Global Positioning System Block IIA satellite later this month, operators at Schriever AFB, Colo., are testing the spacecraft to characterize how similar satellites’ systems respond to shutdown. “The information we gain from testing will drive down risk in future disposal operations,” said Lt. Col. Dean Holthaus, 2nd Space Operations Squadron operations director. In addition to SVN-30, “we still have 12 GPS Block IIA vehicles on orbit,” noted Holthaus. Although it may be several years before another of the Block IIA satellites is retired, with limited slots on orbit, the Air Force wants to ensure it can safely swap out a retiring satellite to reuse its place on orbit. “We know if anything falls outside the norm during future operations, we’ll have quantifiable data” to troubleshoot the vehicle’s disposal deeper into space, said Holthaus. Operator’s switched SVN-30’s role to another satellite after it showed degraded function last May. (Schriever report by Scott Prater)