The 156-foot Atlas IIA rocket, pulsating with 490,000 pounds of thrust, came roaring off the pad at Florida's Cape Canaveral space launch complex into the nighttime sky. It soared 155 miles into space, placing a 7,066-pound Navy communications satellite-called the Ultra-High-Frequency Follow-On (UFO) F-10-into geosynchronous orbit above the Indian Ocean.
The satellite was the 10th in a $1.9 billion series built for the Navy by the Los-Angeles-based Hughes Space and Communications Company.
With this launch-which occurred in November 1999the Navy now has 14 satellites circling the earth, providing both the Navy and the Marine Corps with worldwide communications at ultra-high and extremely-high frequencies. Another UFO, F-11, with an estimated cost of $213 million, is scheduled to go up in 2003.
Control of these satellites has been transferred recently to the small and relatively obscure Naval Space Command, based in the Tidewater countryside of Dahlgren, Va., a former naval gun testing range south of Washington, D.C.
The Naval Space Command is the naval component of the U.S. Space Command, which also includes the Air Force Space Command and the Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
The transfer of eight UFO F-10s from the Air Force to the Navy, in 1999, marked the single largest reassignment of satellites in U.S. military history, according to the head of the Navy command, Rear Adm. Thomas E. Zelibor.
Also in 1999, the chief of naval operations transferred control of the Navy's burgeoning commercial satellite communications programs from the Space and Naval Warfare System Command (SPAWAR) to the Naval Space Command.
The Navy command, with 320 military and civilian personnel, is tiny, particularly when compared to the Air Force's space unit, which has about 26,000 personnel, Zelibor said. The reason for the difference in size: The Air Force command includes two complete, numbered air forces and more than a dozen major air bases. Its duties include managing the Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system; providing weather forecasts, navigational data, and space-based communications services, and launching all satellites and other payloads for the four military services-including the Navy.
Broad Spectrum of Services
The Navy organization was founded in 1983, to provide the fleet and Marines with a broad spectrum of space-based services, including communications, surveillance, navigation and remote sensing. The Navy's ICBMs are managed by its submarine fleet.
The space command's budget "has been pretty constant" in recent years at about $40 million, Zelibor said. "We're about 10 percent of the Navy's overall budget for space."
Nevertheless, he said, the command has influenced the way that the Navy and Marines think about warfare. "Space is about power projection," Zelibor explained. "The Navy views space as a medium for the rapidfire transmission of information between commands, ships at sea, aircraft and forwarddeployed sailors and Marines."
Once in space, the satellites are considered, in many respects, remote-controlled spacecraft. As such, they are "flown," or controlled, by the command's Naval Satellite Operations Center (NAVSOC), in Point Mugu, Calif. At NAVSOC, technicians use a state-of the-art mission-control system to maintain telemetry, tracking and control of satellites around the clock.
The services provided by the satellites are coordinated and disseminated through the command's Naval Space Operations Center (NAVSPOC), located at Dahlgren. NAVSPOC is "a one-stop shop," which provides space-related operational intelligence to deployed Navy and Marine forces through tactical communications channels. At this center, operations teams, composed of officers, enlisted sailors and civilians, monitor the status of military and commercial satellite communications available to the two sea services. …