Situational awareness

The 1st Space Operations Squadron (1 SOPS) at Schriever Air Force Base (AFB), Colorado, accepted two new satellites into operation September 12 to expand their Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program’s (GSSAP) ability to characterize and track objects in space to support a neighborhood watch out in orbit.

GSSAP artist rendering
GSSAP artist rendering

GSSAP provides enhanced space-based space situational awareness to improve the ability to rapidly detect, warn, characterize and attribute disturbances to space systems in the geosynchronous environment. This assists in the protection of the assets in space that affect many facets of daily life such as navigation and communication. GSSAP supports U.S. Strategic Command’s ability to collect data on man-made orbiting objects.

GSSAP became operational in September 2015, when the first two GSSAP satellites reached their Initial Operational Capability. The two newest satellites to the program, GSSAP 3 and 4, were launched into orbit August 19, 2016, and have now finished their testing phase.

«GSSAP 3 and 4 will significantly enhance our ability to characterize objects on geosynchronous orbit», said General Jay Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command. «This provides the awareness we need to successfully operate in space».

This addition to GSSAP is vital to expand 1 SOPS’s space-based space situational awareness mission. It not only provides a significant improvement in space object characterization, but also in detecting threats. Because of its near-geosynchronous orbit, it has a clear and distinct vantage point to avoid the weather interruptions that can limit ground-based space surveillance systems.

The GSSAP satellite system can characterize objects in space to a very refined level. Being able to discriminate and characterize objects assists the U.S. and its allies in achieving responsible and safe use of space. The information obtained by this program provides robust spaceflight safety information and ensures free access to, and use of, space.

As space continues to become more congested and contested, GSSAP and other space situational awareness programs are paramount in deterring aggressive action in space. GSSAP continues to enable safe operations and protects U.S. and allied spacecraft by providing timely and accurate situational awareness. Ultimately, GSSAP and 1 SOPS enable a range of decisive responses that will render any counter-space threats ineffective.