Detachment 3 (Det 3) is the largest and northernmost unit of eight worldwide satellite tracking stations in the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN). The 22nd Space Operations Squadron (22 SOPS), a unit of the 50th Space Wing headquartered at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, operationally controls Det 3 within the AFSCN. Detachment 3 is located approximately 3.5 miles south, southeast of Thule Air Base, Greenland.
The mission of Det 3 is to provide telemetry, tracking and commanding (TT&C) operations to United States and allied government satellite programs.
The site's extreme northern location allows contact with polar orbiting satellites 10-14 times per day. Detachment 3 provides TT&C for communication with surveillance satellites of the highest national priority, communications, navigation, and weather satellites, as well as National Aeronautics and Space Administration missions. It also provides ground relay for over 130 Department of Defense and allied satellites ranging in altitude from 120 miles (200 km) to
24,800 miles (40,000 km) above the earth's surface and conducts over 22,000 satellite contacts per year with a 99.8% success rate, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Thule Air Base is located on the northwest coast of Greenland, 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and approximately 946 miles from the North Pole. Greenland is the largest island on earth with more than five-sixths of its surface covered with ice. The ice cap is more than 11,000 feet thick in some areas. The closest town is Qaanaaq, 75 miles away, with a population of 600. Because of its northern location, Thule experiences constant darkness from November until February and constant sunlight from May to August. Average winter temperatures range from 13 to 20 degrees below zero, with 85 degrees below zero being the lowest recorded reading. Summer temperatures normally range from 30 to 44 degrees with the highest recorded reading being a tepid 68 degrees.
Thule Air Base has approximately 600 residents. Assigned to Det 3 are two military members and approximately 30 contractors (U.S. and Danish). For military personnel, duty at Det 3 is a 12 month unaccompanied tour.
Detachment 3, also known as Thule Tracking Station (TTS), was first designated as Operating Location 5, 6594th Test Wing (Satellite), Air Force Systems Command, on 15 October 1961. Originally a classified location, TTS was declared operational on 30 March 1962. Thule Tracking Station has grown from a single, van-mounted antenna in 1961, to four operational antennas performing functions for customers of the AFSCN. Since 1961, the site has performed over 500,000 satellite contacts.
On June 1, 1997, Det 3 came under the control of 22 SOPS. On May 1, 2004, the 22nd Space Operations Squadron was realigned under the newly established 50th Network Operations Group.
Det 3 has three Automated Remote Tracking Station systems [AN/FSQ-151(V)] operating three antennas ranging in size from 23 feet (10 meters) to 46 feet (14 meters) in diameter.
Info provided by www.thule.af.mil
Another Thule mission dates back to 1961 when the Air Force established a satellite command and control facility (OL-5) to track and communicate with US satellites in polar orbit.
Now known as Det 3, it is part of the Air Force Space Command worldwide satellite command and control network.
Det 3 is one of nine worldwide satellite tracking stations and constitutes the common user portion of the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN).
This network directly supports space operations by providing telemetry tracking and Command and Control to satellites developed and deployed by DOD, other US government agencies, and allied governments.
It also provides data distribution and routing systems to support external users programs and other ground elements
Info provided by Capt. Ken Cozier
Take a look a the history (timeline) of DET-3 here: Thule Tracking Timeline AFD-061205-050.pdf