The 23rd Space Operations Squadron, Detachment 1, is the northernmost unit of seven worldwide satellite tracking stations in the Air Force Satellite Control Network. The squadron is part of the 50th Network Operations Group, 50th Space Wing, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, and is located at New Boston Air Force Station, New Hampshire. The squadron operationally controls Detachment 1 within the AFSCN. Detachment 1 is located approximately 3.5 miles south, southeast of Thule Air Base, Greenland.
The Detachment 1 mission is to provide telemetry, tracking and commanding operations to the United States and allied government satellite programs.
The detachment’s extreme northern location allows contact with polar orbiting satellites 10-12 times per day. Detachment 1 provides telemetry, tracking and commanding for communication with surveillance satellites of the highest national priority; communications, navigation and weather satellites; and NASA missions. It also provides ground relay for more than 185 Department of Defense and allied satellites ranging in altitude from 120 miles to 24,800 miles above the earth's surface and conducts more than 15,000 satellite contacts per year with a 99.3 percent success rate, 24/7.
Thule AB is located on the northwest coast of Greenland, 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and approximately 946 miles south of the North Pole. Greenland is the largest island on Earth with more than five-sixths of its surface covered with ice. The closest town Qaanaaq, pronounced [kah-nahk], is 65 miles away with a population of approximately 600. Because of its northern location, Thule experiences constant darkness from November until February and constant sunlight from May to August. Average winter temperatures range from 13 to 20 degrees below zero, with 85 degrees below zero being the lowest recorded reading. Summer temperatures normally range from 30 to 44 degrees with the highest recorded reading being a tepid 68 degrees.
Thule AB has approximately 550 residents. Two military members and approximately 30 contractors (American and Danish) are assigned to Detachment 1. For military personnel, an assignment to Thule AB is a 12-month unaccompanied tour.
Detachment 1, also known as Thule Tracking Station, was first designated as Operating Location 5, 6594th Test Wing (Satellite), Air Force Systems Command, Oct. 15, 1961. Originally a classified location, the station became operational March 30, 1962. The tracking station grew from a single, van-mounted antenna in 1961 to three operational antennas to support AFSCN customers. Though the number of antennas has fluctuated, the station’s core mission remains unchanged. Site operators have performed more than 500,000 satellite contacts since 1961. Thule Tracking Station came under the control of the 22nd Space Operations Squadron June 1, 1997. The 22nd SOPS realigned under the newly established 50th Network Operations Group May 1, 2004. The station realigned under the 23rd SOPS Oct. 1, 2010, and designated Detachment 1.
Detachment 1 has an automated remote tracking station system that operates an antenna 46-feet-wide in diameter and a remote block change upgrade system that will operate an antenna 42-feet-wide in diameter in May 2020.
(Current as of September 2019)