First Fix: Controlling the constellation

June 1, 2023  - By
Image: U.S. Space Force photo by Tiana Williams

Image: U.S. Space Force photo by Tiana Williams

Colorado Springs, Colorado, and its vicinity are home to several key U.S. military organizations.

To the northwest is the U.S. Air Force Academy, which educates cadets for service in the officer corps of the United States Air Force and United States Space Force.

To the southwest, deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, is the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a United States and Canadian organization charged with detecting, validating and warning of attacks against North America, whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles. In a crisis, the four-star general in command of NORAD would pick up a direct line to the White House and tell the president whether nuclear armed missiles were on their way to the United States. He also commands the United States Northern Command, which is charged with defending the continental United States and Alaska.

I visited these two facilities 35 years ago, when I was a graduate student in international security at MIT. (The Air National Guard flew our group of MIT and Harvard students from Hanscom Air Force Base, near Boston, to Colorado Springs, with a stop at Offutt Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Strategic Command. One of the first Northrop B-2 Spirit, aka the Stealth Bomber, was there, under a tarp. A Harvard student decided to use the stop to go for a run. The MPs promptly arrested him and his professor had to bail him out, much to the amusement of us MIT students.)

In the southeast corner of the city is Peterson Space Force Base. To the east is the one that is of greatest interest to readers of this magazine: Schriever Space Force Base, the home of the GPS Master Control Station.

I recently visited the MCS at the invitation of Lt. Col. Robert O. Wray, Commander, 2nd Space Operations Squadron, which operates it. You can read excerpts of my interview with him here.

Wray gave me a tour of the MCS operations floor. During the tour, I was able to look at the dozens of computer monitors used by the GPS operators and to ask them many questions about their jobs. At any moment, 10 of them are on duty — eight uniformed military personnel and two civilian contractors. Later, I followed up with two members of the GPS Warfighter Collaboration Cell, which supports warfighters, combatant commands and, through the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center, more than four billion global civilian users.

Near the end of the tour, Wray surprised me with a question: “Would you like to send a command to a GPS satellite?” You can imagine my prompt answer. A moment later, I was seated at one of the consoles and entering an alpha-numeric string that I was copying from one of the screens. I was so delighted by the opportunity and so focused on entering the sequence correctly that I forgot to ask what command I was sending! Whatever it was, I assume it will help you get to your destination.

Matteo Luccio | Editor-in-Chief

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at or 541-543-0525.