By Scott Prater
Col. Steven Smith, Space and Missile Systems Center advanced systems division chief, referred to Feb. 23 as “the dawn of a new era,” comparable to the day pre-Neanderthal man learned he could construct tools, and the day the Internet revolutionized the delivery of information worldwide.
Feb. 23 marked SMC’s transfer of satellite control authority of the Space Based Space Surveillance system to the 1st Space Operations Squadron here, signaling the start of the satellite’s operational duty.
The new space situational awareness satellite fulfills a mission Air Force leaders deem of extreme importance, now, and in the future. Since space assets play an increasingly significant role in our nation’s defense, it becomes increasingly more vital that we preserve and protect them to the best of our ability, according to information released by 1 SOPS prior to the transfer.
“Compared to ground-based tools, SBSS provides an increase of space situational awareness by a factor of three,” said Lt. Col. Lorenzo Bradley, 1 SOPS commander. “This enables commanders throughout the military to better detect, identify and track potential hazards in space.”
Until now, U.S. military leaders have relied on terrestrial-based systems, which are limited by weather conditions and night-time observations.
The SBSS system, however, can be thought of as the Air Force’s eye in space, a low earth-orbit sensor that provides all-weather, 24-hour, near real-time SSA data. It’s two-axis, gimbaled optical telescope provides coverage of satellites and other objects in deep space and the geostationary belt.
“In today’s strategic environment, space is a contested domain serving as a medium for a variety of transnational threats,” Colonel Bradley said. “Space situational awareness is the effective understanding of anything associated with the space domain that could affect the security, safety, economy or environment of the U.S. and its associated interests.”
Designed and constructed by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation to support the Space Surveillance Network, the SBSS satellite launched Sept. 25, 2010 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., aboard a Minotaur IV. It was designed to withstand the harsh climate of space for seven years and perform its mission for more than five.
“Thus far, we’ve been in the driver’s seat and had 1 SOPS in the passenger seat,” Colonel Smith said during a ceremony to commemorate the transfer of satellite control authority to 1 SOPS. “Today we pulled over and swapped seats — and we’re with you all the way.”
Col. Wayne Monteith, 50th Space Wing commander, views the operational SBSS as a very successful partnership between 14th Air Force and the Space and Missile Systems Center.
“It took dedicated effort from everyone to ensure this transfer went off,” he said. “I can’t thank the men and women of SMC enough for providing the capability to bring this system into the operational fold. This is pretty darn cool; bringing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance vehicle to Air Force Space Command and being on the cutting edge of the future of where this command is going. This is a momentous day, and it’s really the beginning of the rest of the story as we take operational acceptance and bring this to full operational warfighting capability.”
SBSS will be operated by a 1 SOPS crew consisting of a mission commander, mission crew chief, payload systems operator and satellite systems operator around the clock.