Last month, the U.S. Air Force’s 22nd Space Operations Squadron officially decommissioned their Colorado Tracking Station, which was commonly referred to as PIKE.
With demolition teams already in the process of dismantling the tracking station, Satcom Frontier would like to offer a proper sendoff for PIKE, one of the Air Force Satellite Control Network’s (AFSCN) most valued assets.
Over the course of 24 years, PIKE performed 174,900 satellite supports for orbital adjustments and satellite health checks. It had visibility into 97 of the 154 satellites supported by the AFSCN, according to this U.S. Air Force article.
“During this span, PIKE has provided us with the most reliable satellite operations in the AFSCN,” said Brian Bayless, the 22nd SOPS’ Mission Support Flight chief. “It has also provided the largest ground communications bandwidth in the network.”
When constructed in 1988, PIKE represented the latest in Automated Remote Tracking Station (ARTS) technology, allowing space operators to control the antennas directly. Prior to this, space operations squadrons had to relay commands to antenna operators, who then relayed them to satellites – causing significant delays.
Throughout the years, PIKE deployed every type of antenna in the AFSCN, which included ARTS, Remote Block Change, Transportable RBC and hybrid forms. It was also the only AFSCN site to use GPS enhancement equipment.
In due time, growing efficiency in the AFSCN combined with Air Force budget cuts, led to the tracking station being redundant – with the decommissioning process beginning years ago. As such, it was removed from operational status in 2012. Recently the Air Force has been studying the possibility of outsourcing some satellite operations to the commercial sector.
“PIKE has provided the AFSCN with critical operational capability during the past two years,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Gibson, the 22nd SOPS commander. “It met the Air Force Space Command’s requirement to offset the loss of one of our operational antennas at Thule Air Base, Greenland and provided essential test support for our next-generation transportable antenna. The legacy of PIKE will continue on for years with our future capability.”
Indeed. PIKE will go down in MILSATCOM history as one of the most viable tracking stations that will pave the way for new innovations and help the Air Force effectively meet new mission requirements.