On Oct. 1, 1959 the 6594th Instrumentation Squadron was activated at Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester for the purpose of transforming the New Boston Bombing Range into the New Boston Satellite Tracking Station.
The 6594th was originally part of the Air Force Ballistic Missiles Division of the Air Research and Development Command. It was headquartered at Grenier until moving its support operations to New Boston in 1974.
In October 1979 the squadron was redesignated as Detachment 2, Air Force Satellite Control Facility, Air Force Systems Command. The unit became Detachment 2, 2nd Satellite Tracking Group in October 1987, and was transferred to the Air Force Space Command. In November 1991 it became the 23rd Space Operations Squadron (SOS).
In 2009 the New Boston Satellite Tracking Station became the New Boston Air Force Station. the 23rd SOS was designated as part of the new U.S. Space Force in December 2019. Today, the unit is a component of U.S. Space Force Delta 6 – Space Access & Cyberspace Operations, headquartered at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
The New Boston facility operates under the command of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison, also in Colorado, which supports six installations, over 18,000 military and civilian personnel, and numerous U.S. Space Force missions around the globe. Along with other sites in the network, the New Boston Air Force Station provides satellite command and control capability to Department of Defense, national, and civilian satellites.
The New Boston station consists of around 2,864 acres within the towns of New Boston, Amherst, and Mont Vernon. Most of this is undeveloped forest land, including four ponds (the largest being Joe English Pond), and Joe English Hill (elevation 1,245 feet).
According to a spokesperson for the Peterson-Schriever Garrison, “Due to the sensitive nature of the mission, there is no public access to its property. Only authorized DoD [Department of Defense] ID card holders may access the installation. While only a portion of the installation is used for satellite mission operations, we also have partnerships with other federal agencies that use part of our installation for their mission sets, such as land navigation and other communication systems.”
Station command is responsible for the stewardship of the property’s natural resources, including the maintenance of habitats and ecosystems. The quiet landscape outside of the active military area is available for recreational purposes to DoD ID card holders (including military personnel). There are two air-conditioned cabins for rent on Joe English Pond and campsites on this and another pond.
Visitors can rent kayaks, canoes, mountain bikes, and miscellaneous camping equipment. Everyone is warned that the station was once an air to ground bombing range, so unexploded ordnance may be present.
In 2010 Joe English Pond was drained and hazardous artifacts from the site’s bombing range era were removed. The biggest of these, however, was left it place. It was a 2,000-pound bomb buried under a foot of clay and silt on the pond’s bottom. With the oversight of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the bomb was detonated, but was found to have contained no high explosives.
The 23rd SOS also works to protect the station’s cultural resources, including more than 30 historical and archaeological features. The station shares these resources with the public when possible.
For example, on February 20, 2021 staff from the 23rd SOS accompanied local citizens on a hike to the location of the Melendy farmstead. Luther and Lucinda Melendy were staunch abolitionists whose home was a stop on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. The group viewed the granite rocks that had once formed the house’s cellar hole and the barn’s foundation.
A member of 23rd SOS provided an overview of the anti-slavery movement and the Melendy family’s role in helping escaped slaves find freedom.
The New Boston Air Force Station will soon be renamed the New Boston Space Force Station.
This will mark an important milestone in a history that began in 1942 when the bombing range was created as an adjunct to Grenier Field, the U.S. Army Air Forces Base in Manchester. The site where bomber and fighter pilots and crews once trained for combat now serves, through advanced communications technologies, to protect U.S. and allied interests in space.
Next time: Looking Back returns in two weeks to tell the story of a woman’s mysterious death on the New Boston Bombing Range in 1951.