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Satellite Operations

 Satellite Operations offices manage and direct the operation of satellites and the acquisition of remotely sensed data. This office has operational responsibility for the Satellite Operations Control Center (SOCC) at Suitland, MD and Command and Data Acquisition (CDA) facilities at different locations to command and control the satellites, to track the satellites, and to acquire their data.

The operations center supports the launch, activation, and evaluation of new satellites and the in-depth assessment of satellite and ground systems anomalies. It prepares plans and procedures for responding to satellite and ground anomalies, and establishes and coordinates the schedules for satellite operation and data acquisition to meet users' needs. It also evaluates the technical performance of the satellites and maintains current information and future prediction on satellite orbits and attitudes. It evaluates the effectiveness of the operational facilities and procedures in terms of the quality, quantity, coverage, and timeliness of the data acquired.

Satellite operations engineers’ responsibilities can include the more complex testing and analysis activities involving satellite operations (e.g., launch, early-orbit operations and anomaly support).  Other responsibilities can include:

  • Setting up and configuring ground communications support.
  • Validating and executing orbit plans.
  • Issuing spacecraft commands and monitoring and analyzing telemetry, and implementing corrective actions.
  • Managing software and hardware used to operate spacecraft, detect system anomalies, degradation, or failures.
  •  Reporting on events and spacecraft operational data.
  • Performing mission planning and scheduling, orbital analysis, archival and data processing, routine database and hardware maintenance.
  • Maintaining logs, operations procedures and documentation.

To accomplish these tasks a large group of diverse engineers and technicians work in many geographically separated locations to insure 24/7 support and maintainability of a satellite(s). This module will look at several different career field jobs that make a satellite ground or tracking station function. Without them, your cellular phone, and cable TV would cease in a very short time.

Mission Control Center (MCC)

An example of an MCC is that Boeing in Seattle is able to conduct four satellite missions simultaneously from their MCC. Approximately 120 engineering workstations support satellite operations in the following areas there:

  • Monitoring satellite health and safety
  • Conducting orbital maneuvers to place the satellite in its final orbital position
  • Delivery of all commands sent from the ground to the satellite
  • Linkage to ground stations that support the satellite mission
  • Verification and validation of all satellite systems
    • Bus
    • Payload
  • Placing the satellite into its final configuration for customer operations
  • Providing on-orbit station keeping control

Flight controllers

Flight controllers are personnel who aid in the operations of a space flight, working in Mission Control Centers. Flight controllers sit at computer consoles and use telemetry to monitor in real time various technical aspects of a space mission. Each controller is an expert in a specific area, and is in constant communication with additional experts in the "back room". The flight director is the lead flight controller, monitors the activities of others and has overall responsibility for the mission success and safety. A flight director leads a team, designated by a team name, frequently a color, constellation or stone (e.g., the White or Red Team).

Satellite Ground Systems Software Engineers

Satellite Ground Systems Software Engineers are satellite ground control system engineers who help architect, design, and implement command and control software for remote sensing satellites. They have experience with the satellite command and telemetry systems, mission planning systems, and operational functions of a mission control system. This type engineer will have experience in the development of satellite command generation and validation software.

Links to more career information:

Space and Missile Operations Officer

Air Force Enlisted and Officer Job Descriptions

Job Description Satellite Flight Controller

Job Description Space Vehicle Controller Mission Operations Planner

Satellite Ground Operations

Job Description Satellite Support Engineer


  1. Evolution of the Air Force Satellite Control Network:
  2. Flight Controller Details:
  3. British National Space Center: Careers in Space

 Courtesy:  Boeing, NSPO

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