Monitoring space from the sea

Monitoring space from the sea

About 1,000 miles from the nearest continental contact, in the middle of the Indian Ocean are three telescopes peering up into space, watching and tracking objects while the rest of the world sleeps.

Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia is on a coral atoll in the British Indian Ocean Territories. The remote location is home to Detachment 2, 21st Operations Group, a geographically separated unit of the 21st Space Wing. The detachment is one of three Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance sites in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.

“We’re part of an Air Force space wing, aboard a Naval station, on a British island,” said Capt. Donald Perrotta, Det. 2 commander. “The Navy and British are integral to our continued mission success. Diego Garcia definitely operates with a ‘One island, One Team, One Mission’ mentality.”

Perrotta and Tech. Sgt. Layne Fuell are the only active duty Airmen in the detachment, along with about a dozen government contractors. Fuell was the first one in the NCOIC position for the detachment.

The one-meter telescopes operated by the detachment are passive sensors, Perrotta said, monitoring deep space only at night. They just watch and track space objects reflecting the light of the sun.

Watching at nighttime is something Perrotta compared to taking a telescope out in the backyard to look at the stars, only on a much larger scale. Each of the main telescopes has a 40-inch aperture and covers a two degree field of view. What that means is that they track deep space objects orbiting from 3,000-22,000 miles away, moving at speeds of up to 17,500 mph.


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Source:: Air Force Space Command