Space Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) Mission Control Station (MCS)

(formerly SBIRS MCS)

The Air Space Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) Mission Control Station (MCS) at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo. represents a transformational step in the evolution of the nation's space-based infrared systems. The MCS centralizes global command, control, and communications for strategic and tactical warning into a single modern peacetime facility.


Emerging from a heritage of over 30 years of early warning and the lessons of the 1991 war with Iraq, the consolidated facility provides warfighters with timely, unambiguous missile warning reports. The SBIRS MCS was declared operational in December 2001. 

SBIRS consists of three individual space constellations and an evolving ground element: the Defense Support Program (DSP), SBIRS High, and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS). These systems are independent yet complement each other by providing global infrared coverage. The MCS operates the Defense Support Program (DSP) today and will have the capability to operate SBIRS High and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System from the consolidated location in the future. 

DSP satellites provide early detection and warning of missile launches and nuclear explosions to the President, Secretary of Defense and operational commands. The satellite constellation has been the cornerstone of North America's early warning system for more than 30 years. 

The 2nd and 8th Space Warning Squadrons operate the DSP constellation from the MCS. Both units belong to Air Force Space Command's 21st Space Wing. 

The Mission Control Station marked the first step in the deployment of SBIRS. The new facility consolidated three legacy strategic warning centers, one in the United States and two at overseas locations, as well as the tactical warning center known as ALERT. This provided the Air Force with a cost avoidance of more than $50 million in operations and maintenance costs and reduced staff required to operate the world-wide system by more than 900 people. The MCS brought together multiple data processing facilities and units at various locations worldwide into a modern facility capable of handling current and future C4ISR requirements. The three legacy DSP ground stations were phased out of service in 2002 followed by the deactivation of the ALERT tactical center late that year. 

The SBIRS ground segment replaced legacy software with an open architecture software solution that will accommodate SBIRS High satellites as they are fielded. The Space Tracking and Surveillance System may also opt to use the MCS facility for ground processing, however the decision on where to house the STSS ground segment has not yet been made. 

This transformational consolidated ground segment facility is helping the Air Force right-size and improve the operational warning picture for the President and Secretary of Defense, U.S. Strategic Command, Northern Command, and other theater commanders by providing a single, unambiguous report to users. It freed additional Air Force resources by reducing the staff required to operate such a system by 58 percent and O&M funding by 25 percent. 

Following the 1991 Gulf War, a need was recognized to deliver to the theater commanders a single, unambiguous report on missile activity in their area. While DSP proved very effective, the fact remained that it had been designed around Cold War requirements. 

In response, the program office launched Talon Shield Phase 1 which quickly fielded an operational system known as Attack and Launch Early Reporting to Theater (ALERT) in March 1995. ALERT was a high-confidence operational system that provided assured theater missile warning to warfighters worldwide. ALERT was the only component of the tactical event system that monitored all major regional conflict areas and potential hot spots simultaneously. The system fused the full Defense Support Program constellation and other data sources into a cohesive picture for tactical users worldwide. ALERT pointed the way to consolidating and fusing all space-based infrared systems data into a common operational environment and providing a common operational picture to commanders worldwide. The team at the MCS now performs the ALERT mission.