Civil engineers provide power, keeps comms cool

  • Published
  • By Emily Klinkenborg, Public Affairs Specialist
  • Space Base Delta 1 Public Affairs

Communication rooms are the nucleus of base operations. The servers process and store data, the telephone switches direct calls, and the routers provide a gateway to the rest of the world.

While communication squadrons are responsible for keeping their installations connected to the network, the civil engineer squadrons ensure they have the power to do so.

The 21st and 50th Civil Engineer Squadrons work together to ensure the 21st Communications Squadron has the infrastructure and resources they need to deliver secure and non-secure voice and data services across the Front Range.

“If the 21st Communications Squadron doesn’t have power, then they can’t function,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Erica Tortella, 21st CES commander. “If we don’t have the network, then nobody functions.”

The 21st CS recently absorbed the 50th CS, resulting in it becoming the largest communication squadron in the USAF and U.S. Space Force combined.

Within the 21st CS, the service members, civilians and contractors manage more than 30,000 devices and 40,000 phone lines which support approximately 20,000 end users across Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station, Peterson Space Force Base and Schriever SFB.

The facilities that store critical communication assets across the Front Range are a top priority for the 21st and 50th CES, considering the customers who use the 21st CS infrastructure.

The 21st CS provides communication support for two combatant commands, including U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Space Command, as well as three major command-equivalent organizations: U.S. Army Strategic Command, Space Operations Command, and Space Training and Readiness Command.

“If we had a failure of any kind, then our team would contact the 21st CES,” said Rita Hahn, 21st CS operations flight director. “The 21st CS would immediately dispatch their team because they are aware of our criticality.”

The 21st CES directly supports Peterson SFB and Cheyenne Mountain SFS, while the 50th CES directly supports Schriever SFB. Although there are two CE squadrons with separate footprints throughout the Front Range, their missions remain the same.

Together, these teams put the CE in ‘space’ by sustaining and maintaining the infrastructure on their respective bases to power the 21st CS and ultimately keep critical mission systems running. These infrastructures involve buildings, roads, fences, water and power; or what they refer to as ‘real-property items.’

Schriever SFB does not have a flight line, so while CES missions on most bases revolve around the flight line, the 50th CES mission at Schriever SFB does not.

“Our ‘runway’ is our power and our facilities,” said USAF Lt. Col. Monica Pickenpaugh, 50th CES commander. “We help maintain DoD space assets valued at $66 billion by keeping the facilities running.”

Both CE squadrons have a similar organizational structures, and members from their operations flights are typically the ones who respond to calls on their customer service lines, especially when it involves a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

“Hundreds of work requests come in,” said Tortella. “If it's a call related to a cooling system in a server room, then that is going to raise the request to an emergency status for that facility, especially if it’s one of the facilities that has a high-mission impact based on our Contingency Response Plan.”

The CRP is a list that prioritizes the facilities on the installations based on their mission set. A work order regarding a communication room’s cooling system takes precedence over one involving a regular office space; server-room cooling versus comfort cooling.

Server rooms can be stacked floor-to-ceiling with a great deal of communication equipment. Those systems operating 24/7 can produce substantial heat in confined spaces. Though the systems have an internal fan to assist with temperature control, it is not sufficient enough on its own to reduce the overall temperature of the equipment.

HVACs on base are designed to cool an entire facility whereas Communication Room Air Conditioning units, or CRAC units, are specifically dedicated to the communication rooms themselves.

“Equipment is made to run around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so when it starts to elevate and stays running at a hotter temperature, it burns out quicker,” said Hahn. “It causes the equipment to fail.”

If temperatures rise, portable air conditioning units may be used as a contingency for cooling purposes. The 21st CS would then begin load shedding; a process of shutting down lower-priority equipment to reduce heat and conserve power so that higher-priority systems can continue to operate.

Commercial power is essential for keeping the cooling systems and communication equipment operational, but the CE teams also own and maintain redundant power systems as a backup.

If commercial power shuts down at a mission facility, then power immediately transfers to an Uninterruptable Power Supply. These UPS systems, owned by the facilities, act as batteries that remain on, and fully charged, in the event of a power outage.

System sensors can detect that a power outage is bound to occur before it happens which triggers the generators to activate. The UPS systems carry the load until the generators are fully postured to continue providing power.

“Mission facilities at Schriever Space Force Base were built to have redundancy and resilience through the Central Utility Plant,” said Pickenpaugh. “If commercial power does go out, then the CUP will pick up the load. Schriever’s back up power system is not considered backup power, it’s considered prime power.”

Prime power refers to systems having a primary power source rather than just a backup to the main power source.

Together the 21st CS, 21st CES and 50th CES perform maintenance on their equipment throughout the year.

“We do a mixture of preventative maintenance as well as sustainment maintenance,” said Tortella.

Preventative maintenance is similar to rotating the tires on a vehicle. Sustainment maintenance involves larger tasks such as replacing equipment that is nearing, or has surpassed, its shelf life.

Preventative maintenance on generators is performed monthly and require facilities to run off generator power for two hours at a time with no interruptions. Like work requests, generator maintenance is also prioritized based on the mission of the facility as well.

“We are in lock step with 21st CS,” said Pickenpaugh. “We need to be.”