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RAF Corporal qualifies with U.S. Space Command

A Royal Air Force Corporal has become the first from an overseas nation to qualify as an Orbital Analyst with U.S. Space Command.

Corporal Mitchell Astbury is one of two RAF corporals assigned to the 18th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. In 2019 the RAF became the first international partner in the U.S. Space Command’s Operation Olympic Defender, a US-led international coalition formed to strengthen deterrence against hostile actions in space.

Image shows Corporal Mitchell Astbury holding his new badge

To gain the qualification Cpl Astbury spent three months operating a live console in the Space Defense Operations Center alongside US and Canadian colleagues, and completed a two-week Astrodynamic Support Workstation course. This included producing a mission planning guide which has now been adopted as the standard for 18 SPCS personnel to use when creating briefing documents. He also created an online training lesson that is briefed to current and new squadron personnel to improve understanding of the mission planning process.

“To have the opportunity to distribute my sensor knowledge and to be one of the two British personnel working on the operations floor doing so is an honour” he said. “To be a part of an expanding space force, getting to watch new launches and missions really is remarkable and I am so thankful for my experience.”

Corporal Mitchell Astbury

Air Commodore James Linter, the UK’s Air & Space Attaché to the US, said: “People are at the centre of our space strategy and I am delighted Corporal Astbury has excelled in his training with US and Canadian colleagues. I congratulate him on an impressive achievement and the great work he has undertaken since embedding with US Space Command.”

Space is becoming an increasingly congested, complex and internationally contested domain. The rapid pace of technological change, the ambitions of other states and the rise of commercial space operations pose potential risks to, and opportunities for, the UK and its allies.

For example, there are some 900,000 pieces of debris estimated to be in orbit around the Earth, and space debris is presenting an increasing and significant collision risk to safe space flight operations and the activities they support on earth. Monitoring space to gaining situational awareness of the domain is therefore critical to protecting UK Space operations and fostering responsible behaviour.

Cpl Astbury’s career in space operations stems from an interest in the domain that started when he was eight years old. “Constellations were my fascination and I constantly went out looking for figures in the sky,” he said.

“One night I saw a fast-moving object and told my teacher what I saw. She told me it may have been a satellite, and from then I was captivated by space exploration. Why are they up there? How do they keep it up there? I needed answers.”

Corporal Mitchell Astbury

His interest led him to join the RAF in 2008. “It was always my goal to be posted to RAF Fylingdales, as I knew their role 90 percent of the time was the detection and tracking of orbiting objects,” He said. “I learned so much in my five years there working within the unique phased array radar.”