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DSCS III illustration

Defense Satellite Communication System satellites (like the one pictured) provide critical communication links utilized by the Department of Defense and U.S. allies.

SCHRIEVER SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo. -- 4th Space Operations Squadron out of Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado, officially retired the Defense Satellite Communications Systems III satellite B7 on December 9th, 2022.
Having surpassed the end of its design life, DSCS satellite B7 was officially retired and placed in a supersynchronous orbit, making room for deploying new, more advanced technology.
DSCS B7 launched in 1995 and spent 27 years providing high-priority communication capabilities to the Department of Defense, our allies, and partners. It was part of a military satellite constellation placed in geosynchronous orbit to provide high-volume, secure voice and data communications.
According to NASA, B7 was used to exchange wartime information and was pivotal in transmitting space operations and early warning data to various systems and users across the globe.
The satellite, now nearly 30 years old, operated 15 years past its design life, a testament to the engineers and the operators of B7.
“A few things are considered when retiring a satellite such as moving it into an orbital junkyard far removed from where satellites operate or pulling it closer to reenter the atmosphere for de-orbit disintegration,” said Col Jay M. Steingold, SATCOM Mission Area Team chief. “Moving a satellite into a higher orbit is similar to hauling an aircraft to the bone yards located in the southwest United States.  In the case of B7, it was decided the best course of action was to move it to a different orbit”.
The retirement process began in late October when U.S. Space Command relinquished the satellite to Space Operations Command.
Moving the satellite to a higher orbit occurs through thruster burns. During this process, it was critical to ensure adequate fuel and, at the same time, keep it out of the way of other satellites. The operation took about two weeks and was a success.
Effectively super-syncing, the formal term for retiring a satellite, is nearly as important as successfully launching one. Both processes speak to the skill required to see an operation through while being good stewards of space.
“Retiring B7 confirms SpOC’s commitment to limiting the generation of long-lived debris and avoiding the creation of harmful interference in an already congested domain,” said Steingold. “For now, B7, along with the other retired equipment, will remain in that orbit until new methods are developed to address the issue of space junk permanently”.
By moving B7 to a supersynchronous orbit, SpOC is doing its part in maintaining a safe and sustainable operating space for the global community.
“The U.S. intends to lead the world in promoting responsible behavior in space,” said Brig. General Devin R. Pepper, Deputy Commanding General, Operations. “It is a shared interest of all nations to act responsibly in space to ensure the safety, stability, security and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”
B7’s contribution to the Department of Defense’s mission can be traced through many world events and conflicts. While its retirement signals the end of an era, its absence will not leave a gap in the Space Force’s operational capabilities.
Its retirement makes room for new, more efficient technology as SpOC takes the lessons learned to better operate safely, sustainably, and effectively in space.