Space Situational Awareness Satellites
The majority of known space-based SSA satellites are run by the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Space Operations Squadron (1 SOPS) from Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
In simplest terms, space situational awareness (SSA) is knowing what is happening, or possibly may happen, in the space around an object or point. For many organizations, such as the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), SSA is decidedly near-Earth focused, encompassing intelligence, surveillance, and…
In February 2014, the USAF took the unusual step of publicly announcing the existence of classified space situational awareness satellites. In the initial announcement, General William Shelton stated that the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites will provide more accurate locations and data about satellites and perhaps debris orbiting the Earth. The first ## of ## GSSAP satellites were launched to GEO in July 2014, and the USAF intends to launch ## more satellites in 2016.
Launched in February 2013 and fully operational as of January 2014, the Canadian Department of National Defence’s (DND’s) Sapphire satellite was designed to provide data about space objects orbiting the Earth. Sapphire is in a sun-synchronous low Earth orbit of ## kilometers (## miles). Sapphire’s orbit around the Earth aligns with the Sun in such a way to allow its telescope to see the brightest reflections possible of other objects in space.
As the space around Earth becomes increasingly crowded with satellites and debris, preventing further collisions is essential. Space Situational Awareness (SSA) systems are designed to locate and track objects in Earth’s orbit and predict potential collisions. Even very small objects moving at … This article is for subscribers. Please sign up for a subscription or…
Space situational awareness (SSA) is an important national security mission with strong dual-use applications. SSA systems are dedicated to tracking and characterizing every object in Earth’s orbit, making sure objects do not come close enough to each other to pose a risk of collision. They do this by scanning the sky with optical and radar-based sensors, tracking the positions and courses of orbital objects, and predicting their future positions. Most SSA information is collected from ground-based systems—there are only a few satellites that contribute data to this function.
The U.S. Space Based Surveillance System (SBSS) satellite, launched in 2010, uses an optical sensor to detect objects in space as it orbits around Earth. It has an expected lifespan of 5.5 years and was designed as a pathfinder for a proposed series of similar satellites.
The ability to minimize false detections of missile launches is a feature of Canada’s Sapphire spacecraft, launched in February 2013. The C$## million (US$## million) spacecraft, which features a unique orbit that positions it to track light reflected off of objects in space, offers space surveillance data to both Canada and the United States. Canada’s Sapphire satellite began contributing data on orbiting space objects to the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) system in January 2014.
The ability to minimize false detections of missile launches is a feature of Canada’s Sapphire spacecraft, launched in February 2013. The C$## million (US$## million) spacecraft, which features a unique orbit that positions it to track light reflected off of objects in space, offers space surveillance data to both Canada and the United States.
Europe is investing in a pan-European SSA capability through an ESA program that was initiated in 2009. Investment of €## million (US$## million) was initially requested for full-scale development, but ESA governments decided to spend only €## million (US$## million) over three years. So far, ESA has spent €## million (US$## million) on development. Some of that funding supported construction of ## prototype space surveillance radars. The first radar, located in Spain and built by Germany, was completed in October 2012 with validation and testing beginning in November.