Det 1 21st Operations Group
Published August 16, 2012
Detachment 1, 21st Operations Group is a dedicated space surveillance unit in the northwest corner of the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range, approximately 30 miles southeast of the town of Socorro, N.M. The detachment was the first operational site in the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance system.
The primary mission of the detachment is to detect, track and identify all tasked space objects within its area of coverage. The unit usually provides data on deep space objects in the orbits from 3,000 to 22,000 miles, although it has a limited near earth detection capability. Satellite information is provided to the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
The detachment is one of three worldwide Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance sites.
The GEODSS site performs its mission using three powerful telescopes; low light level, electro-optical cameras; and high speed computers. Detachment 1 uses three, 1.2-meter telescopes with a 1.68-degree field of view. Because the site is an optical sensor, mission operations are limited to relatively clear sky conditions at night. The isolated high desert of central New Mexico provides an excellent location for such operations.
The detachment was activated as Detachment 1, 1st Strategic Aerospace Division, Strategic Air Command in April 1981 and became operational on July 30, 1982. The detachment became part of the 1st Space Wing, Air Force Space Command on May 1, 1983.
On Feb. 1, 1990, it was reassigned to the 18th Space Surveillance Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base upon activation of the squadron. Both the detachment and its parent squadron were reassigned to the wing from the 73rd Space Group on May 15, 1992, when the 21st Space Wing assumed responsibility for all space surveillance units. The unit was redesignated as the 18th Space Control Squadron in February 2003. The unit was realigned under the 21st Operations Group following the 18th SPCS closure in December 2004.
The site is operated and maintained by contract workers. The single Air Force captain assigned is responsible for ensuring that the mission is accomplished and the contractor's work performance is satisfactory.
The detachment sits on the northwest corner of the White Sands Missile Range on Route 525, 30 miles southeast of the town of Socorro. The terrain is dry and sandy, and the area's desert climate is hot and dry in summer, cool and dry in winter.