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Obituary: Farewell to SVN-35

Contractor Jim Brewer and Senior Airman Guillermo Delacruz-Martinez, 2nd Space Operations Squadron, send the disposal command to GPS Satellite Vehicle No. 35 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Friday, June 10, 2016. The command marked the vehicle’s end of life. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Dennis Rogers)

Contractor Jim Brewer and Senior Airman Guillermo Delacruz-Martinez, 2nd Space Operations Squadron, send the disposal command to GPS Satellite Vehicle No. 35 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Friday, June 10, 2016. The command marked the vehicle’s end of life. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Dennis Rogers)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

June 10, 2016, was a sad day for 2nd Space Operations Squadron as it said goodbye to one of its older children – GPS Satellite Vehicle No. 35.

SVN-35 passed away at 22 years old in the dark recess of space, not entirely surrounded but controlled by its 2 SOPS family and friends at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

“The design life of SVN 35 was seven and a half years. It was operational for about 20 years, just shy of 3 times its design life, which is pretty good--a lot of bang for our buck for our taxpayers,” said Capt. Aaron Blain, 2 SOPS Analysis flight commander. 

SVN-35, a GPS Block IIA satellite, was launched Aug. 30, 1993, from Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. As part of the Air Force’s GPS program, it provided positioning, navigation and timing services to billions of users, and enabled communications networks, banking systems, financial markets and power grids. It was also critical to national security as it is virtually integrated into every facet of U.S. military operations.

However, everything that goes up, must come down. In SVN-35’s case, it still must go up approximately 1,000 kilometers from its last operational orbit.

“Our policy is to keep these vehicles in a residual status in case something happens to one of our operational vehicles,” said Capt. Matt Blystone, 2 SOPS assistant Analysis Flight commander. “But SVN-35 was a poor performer when compared to our new satellites and has several at risk vehicle components.  With the robust nature of our current constellation, SVN-35’s risks outweighed its potential benefits as a backup.”

Blain explained bus component degradations, which include the reaction wheels and solar arrays among others, usually lead to the demise of a satellite because the bus has less backup components which they can switch too.

“Actually this time, it was the payload that ran out of backup components , which is unique,” Blain said. “We have a pretty good running rivalry between our navigation payload shop and our bus shop as to which side of the house forces us to dispose of satellites. In this case, (SVN-35) couldn’t meet the current mission performance with its last clock in the navigation payload. The last time it was operational was the spring of 2013 when it was removed from the operational constellation for the launch of SVN-66.”

Usually, the squadron’s trigger for disposing of an aging spacecraft resides with its bus, the life support system. In this case, the team exhausted the lifespan ofSVN-35’s four clocks in the navigation payload.

The passing away of SVN-35 impacted the whole squadron, but not as much as some personnel and contractors who have been with the satellite since its launch.

“It’s very emotional for them since they have a bigger attachment… They’ve spent a lot of their effort and endeavors to make this satellite last as long as it has. They’ve definitely poured their heart and soul into it,” Blain said.

The squadron would like to thank the 19th and 22nd Space Operations Squadrons, contractors as well as their families and friends for their support during the final SVN-35 operations.