A few questions about USAF space operations careers

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by usafa2022, Jan 21, 2016.

  1. usafa2022

    usafa2022 Member

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    I googled around a little and didn't find much detailed information on space ops in the AF, but it sounds like a really exciting career field for officers. It's my understanding that AFSPC officers (I think its AFSC is 13S but idk) direct the operation of satellites and plan missions. Does this mostly entail managing enlisted airmen like most other officer AFSCs, or can it be actually operating satellites, planning missions, and working on the control center floor during a launch? The actual operations are what I'm most interested in.

    Also, what does the path to becoming an AFSPC officer look like? What are the degree requirements, skill sets, and training like? I know USAFA used to offer a space operations major but it has been discontinued.

    I would assume the civilian applications for the space field are many since the commercial space industry has been growing so fast. Do space officers typically move on to similar jobs in industry? Watching SpaceX develop and test that reusable rocket has been awesome, and being part of something like that either in the AF or commercially would be pretty amazing.
     
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  2. Falcon A

    Falcon A Member

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    I retired in Dec 2007, so my data may not be as current as others. I had a great 24 1/2 year AF career of which 20 years were in and around space related activities. I was able to do acquisition management, engineering, development, testing, mission planning, satellite operations, and launch operations. You are correct that the standard AFSC for space ops in the AF is 13SX for officers. Some start off their careers directly in space ops, but others get there from the missileer career fields, or from the acquisition and engineering career fields (I did the acquisition and engineering route). I'm also hearing cyberops is a path.

    My bias and belief is that it is best to have a technical or engineering degree. Some are able to succeed without one, but most of the folks that I know that really excelled and had a great space-related career had the technical background. The education I got at USAFA prepared me well, and I believe it would do the same for you or anyone else fortunate enough to attend

    As you might expect, whether you will be supervising personnel will depend on the path you take and the job you have. Some of the satellite operations are done by officers or by enlisted with officers supervising, but many of the satellite operators are also civilians or contractors. Just depends on the system. Sames goes for mission planning. Unlike the Army, Navy or USMC, it is unlikely you will be a supervisor as an O1/2nd LT.

    Launch is a niche unto itself and has 2 paths. First path is Range Operations. This is the job of operating the radars and the communication systems at the 2 AF run launch bases (Patrick AFB/Cape Canaveral AFS in FL and Vandenberg AFB in CA). The Range job is to track the rocket on ascent and be ready to destroy it in order to protect public safety. The other path is Launch Operations. The law directs the USG (AF included) to procure launch services from US industry. For AF launches, AF members (and support contractors) assist with satellite mission integration, do technical reviews and then serve on console with their US launch industry counterparts on launch day. (NASA does the same for the launches of their NASA satellites.) In truth, US industry builds the majority of the satellites and launch vehicles.

    As far as moving to industry, many AF officers after serving their 5-8 year ROTC or USAFA commitments do transition to the aerospace industry. Many also go on to serve full careers and then make a transition after they retire. I'm now working for NASA and still doing launch (we just launched a mission with SpaceX on 17 Jan 2016 from Vandenberg). . . I am blessed. How do you make a career like that happen? . . . I don't know . . . but you first have to jump in the pool . . . good luck and best wishes.
     
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  3. usafa2022

    usafa2022 Member

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    FalconA, thanks for the reply. I remember reading that the missile and space fields were separated a couple years ago (different AFSCs), so you can no longer start in missiles and move into space. I wasn't aware that you could transition to space via engineering though. I assume you mean AFSC 62 developmental engineer? That sounds interesting since it might be a way to build some engineering experience before transitioning into space ops. Could be helpful for a future career in industry maybe?

    Also, do you happen to know where I could get some more info on the day-to-day duties of a space ops officer? The 62 AFSC actually has an online forum just for 62's now, so maybe there's something similar for 13's?
     
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  4. Falcon A

    Falcon A Member

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    Yes . . . the missile career field has been separated from space ops and IMHO that was a good move, and I believe you can still transition from missile to space, but believe that may now be more difficult than it once was. 62XX or in some case 63XX are good career fields in the engineering and program mgmt AFSCs by which to enter space related activities. Best to be assigned to Space and Missile Systems Command (SMC) at LA AFB to make that happen. As far as a forum for 13SX's, I'm not aware . . . I'm probably too old :) but you might check out the web pages for Schriever AFB, 50th Space Wing, Buckley AFB, as well as the NRO web site. You might find what you are looking for there.
     
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  5. c.s.Apollo

    c.s.Apollo New Member

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    Falcon A,

    Sir, I'd like to personally appreciate you sharing your experience to future cadets and officers. I am also very much interested in the career path of air force space operations officer. I am a currently combat deployed scout in the Army, looking to ETS as soon as I return home. I have a degree in aerospace engineering, and cannot wait to begin my career. I am seriously considering applying to the AFOTS as my next career option, and I think it's a great career opportunity. But I am a bit concerned for my experience in the Army.

    The officers in the Army I observed, are essentially in a managerial positions, while civilian contractors does ALL technical repairs. For example, I know how to repair M9 pistols with broken trigger spring or hammer release lever, but we are not allowed to repair them ourselves, nor provided replacement parts. ALL has to go through civilian contractors. Same goes for BFTs, LRASs, and any sort of network/ optical/ weapons system we use. In some occasions, contracts dictate to reserve the rights on technical details, and the Army personnel are not provided technical manuals at all.

    Granted, the complexity of M9 pistol is not compared to that of a satellite systems. I do understand what it means when you said 1LT and 2LT won't be filling in supervisory positions. But compared to the civilian counterparts you worked with, would you say that you were more in a managerial/ overseeing position than hands-on engineering position for being an Air Force officer? What difference do you notice in your current position at the NASA compared to your colleagues who led all their career in civilian sector?

    My final goal is to someday work on manned space missions, as a flight controller or maybe, a flight director. So most likely I'll try to move to NASA position after my initial commitment at the AF, if I get accepted. But as of right now I feel like I still have some more left in myself to contribute to my country, and continue my service further in the Air Force. But I am already 28, and I'll be 30 when I leave the Army, before I even begin my career in the aerospace. I'd like to make the most informed decision possible to help my future career and achieve my dream one day.

    Hope my question is not too personal or intrusive, especially since I brought up your current position. If it seems that way, I sincerely apologies.

    Thank you and appreciate your lifelong service to the country, and thank you for your time, sir.
     
  6. Falcon A

    Falcon A Member

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    c.s. Apollo

    It depends what you mean by "hands on" engineering. If you mean the actual taking pen to paper (or cadcam) to design a satellite or rocket, and/or the actual physical labor of building a satellite or rocket, the AF doesn't perform those tasks for the greatest majority of situations. (Exceptions would be small satellites designed and built while a cadet at the Academy or as part of AFRL, or scientific instruments and payloads built by NASA at one of its centers. Both AF and NASA use US industry heavily for the programs they build and operate.). This is due to policy decisions that were made 20+ years ago for USG not to compete with US industry.

    For satellites what you do get to do as an O1 thru O4 is to create the engineering requirements a system has to meet, evaluate the designs put forward by industry to meet those requirements, select the best proposal, then participate and oversee the design development process, be a part of the test planning process, then witness and evaluate the test results. The details of how a satellite is operated and by whom once it is on orbit tends to be system specific but contractor operators are definitely involved. You as the AF officer are responsible for making decisions concerning the operation. O5s and O6s tend to have the managerial positions.

    Launch is a bit different. The 1998 Commercial Space Act mandated the USG procure launch services as opposed to the actual rocket for launch of USG satellites. (The only exception currently is the big rocket NASA is building for deep space human exploration known as SLS. The SLS is being built in a "traditional" manner like a satellite development as described above). The USG is "involved" with the in the rocket design process but does not oversee it. Companies then bid to perform mission launches and they are competitively selected. The USG then does a lot of engineering analysis to double check the contractor's work and then the USG typically oversees the launch count.

    This is a very brief summary and there are a lot of nuances.

    If you want to be "hands on engineering from scratch," join industry

    If you go AF, realize that as an O1-O3 you will be more "hands on" if working on or put in charge of one of the smaller lower dollar value programs.
     
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  7. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    I have done extensive research in support of this thread and am sad to report that the Goldeneye program has been cancelled.

    Kidding aside, I received the Army's 3Y space operations identifier about two years ago, which isn't a career change but an extra skill identifier based on qualification courses. While I don't work in space operations, the courses allowed us to see very deep behind the curtain at times. It's a truly exciting field to be in.
     
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  8. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator Moderator

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    Listen to FalconA, and Scout as well. While I don't know Scout, I do know FalconA well...and he's pretty high up in that community (think flag officer). Scout is pretty open about things; and usually spot-on...for him to say it's a truly exciting field...I'd ask more about it!

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
     
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  9. buffalo

    buffalo USAFA 2013

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    Maybe scout would be willing to elaborate more of what is behind the curtain in an email?
     
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  10. c.s.Apollo

    c.s.Apollo New Member

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    Thank you, Falcon A!

    And I'd absolutely like to know more about behind the curtain too, if scoutpilot is willing to eleborate!
     
  11. Falcon A

    Falcon A Member

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    I will defer to Scout Pilot for Army program details that can be shared, but much of my active duty career was in and around the NRO with a good portion being served back when it was still a classified organization. While the NRO's existence has now been acknowledged for over a decade (still hard to believe), much of the activities are still classified in order to protect the capabilities. If offered the opportunity to serve there I would recommend it.
     
  12. Blenchaw

    Blenchaw New Member

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    Falcon A & company,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your professional insight on the forum here. The information you have shared above has already been immensely helpful in helping me determine whether or not to pursue 13X opportunities. I am currently an enlisted member, recently transitioned to AF Reserve from active duty, and I am interested in pursuing a career in the aerospace sector. I have an business undergrad degree, and a graduate degree in Aeronautical Science. My timeline for completing the AFOQT and submitting a package is roughly 2 years. I currently work as a Project Manager at Delta Air Lines in Engineering and I am interested in taking my family out to CO to work with the Reserve as a Space Systems Officer. To that end, I am curious if these positions are sometimes TR or would require a full-time ART (or officer equivalent) commitment?

    Thanks again for your time and I'm looking forward to hearing some more insight about the career field.

    Regards,

    Blenchaw
     
  13. Falcon A

    Falcon A Member

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    Blenchaw -- I'm sorry. I do not have that knowledge. I would encourage you to contact the 50th Space Wing at Schriever AFB in Colo Spgs to see if they can advise youu.
     
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  14. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator Moderator

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    Blenchaw,

    While I can't speak for Schriever AFB or Space Ops, I can speak for service in the AFRC as I spent half my 32 years there. It is NOT common for an AFRC unit to hire a "newbie" into an ART slot; those are typically parsed out to members of the unit that have proven themselves and let the hierarchy know that's what they want. The life of an ART is great and a pain; the timekeeping is not fun. You have to be able to clearly delineate when you were on civilian time and when you were on military time and they can NEVER cross...it becomes a pain until you really get the hang of it.

    I agree with my classmate, FalconA...you should give the 50th SW a call.

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
     
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  15. Blenchaw

    Blenchaw New Member

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    Falcon A and flieger83,

    Thanks for the input. That's interesting... having been in the Reserve now for less than a year, I am still acclimating to the 'Reserve work pace'. I work in the wing safety office now, but my heart is in aerospace and I plan on aligning my military career with that passion. I will be meeting with the 8 SWS Operations Superintendent at Buckley for coffee in mid-February to ask some of these questions. Do you have a point of contact in the 50th SW that would be willing to take some time to speak with me?

    Thanks again for your help and for your service.

    Regards,
    Alex
     
  16. Falcon A

    Falcon A Member

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    Blenchaw -- I don't have any current contacts at the 50th. Chief Master Sgt.John F. Bentivegna is the Command Chief Master Sergeant, 50th Space Wing, Schriever Air Force Base. You might call the base locator there at Schriever AFB and get his office number and see if they can assist or refer you to the right office

    Also found this on the AF Reserve Web page: https://www.afreserve.com/where-to-serve/?loc=80912

    "Schriever AFB in Colorado is home to the 310th Space Wing, the only space wing in the Air Force Reserve.

    The Wing's 6th Space Operations Squadron is the only DoD organization operating Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites in support of the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They provide immediate backup capability for NOAA, the primary operating agency.

    Schriever AFB's 19th Space Operations Squadron launches, sustains, operates and modernizes the GPS satellite constellation and ground systems, providing highly accurate to users worldwide
    ."

    So you should also try to contact 310th SW: http://www.310sw.afrc.af.mil/ContactUs.aspx

    Best Wishes!
     
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  17. Blenchaw

    Blenchaw New Member

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    Falcon A,

    Thank you for the information! I have in a round about way ended up with contacts within the 8th SWS, the 380th, and the 310th that have all agreed to meet over coffee or lunch.

    Looking forward to learning more about the community and getting involved.

    Cheers,
    Blenchaw
     
  18. Blue&SilverBear

    Blue&SilverBear USAFA Grad/ALO

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    I'll second that recommendation- NRO is as good as it gets in government with an awesome mission.
     
  19. cb7893

    cb7893 Member

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    Don't know if this helps, but...

    Last Semester, DS #2 did an internship at Goddard Space Flight Center in MD. He lived in an AIRBNB with several other interns. One of his housemates commissioned in May 2016 from AFROTC. He was not to report for Active Duty until January 2017, so he had 7 mos. to burn.

    A strong STEM resume would be required (DS is MechE Major and has worked/works in a surgical robotics lab), but I can't think of a better way to burn 12-16 weeks between commissioning and AD, or junior/senior year of college if you can swing it. You won't get fitted for a space suit, but it's a great opportunity to see how "big science" operates in general and NASA in particular. I'd recommend it to all Cadets and Midis.

    BTW DS was paid $9k for the 15 weeks.
     
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  20. Falcon A

    Falcon A Member

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