By Scott Prater
The Space Based Space Surveillance Block 10 satellite, a vehicle operated by the 1st and 7th Space Operations Squadrons here, earned Initial Operational Capability Aug. 15 following a declaration by Gen. William L. Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command.
The announcement means the satellite system has achieved its initial capability and is ready to support U.S. Strategic Command requirements.
“We’ve reached a significant milestone,” said Lt. Col. Mike Manor, 1 SOPS commander. “We’ve been operating SBSS for an extended trial period and now we can begin our vital operational mission.”
Launched in September 2010, SBSS 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 space situational awareness data to assist commanders throughout the military in detecting, identifying and tracking potential hazards in space. In essence, SBSS is helping to provide a better understanding of the space environment “SBSS is important because the space situational awareness data it provides underwrites the nation’s operations in space,” Manor said. Built by Ball Aerospace Technologies Corporation and the Boeing company, the vehicle’s two-axis, gimbaled optical telescope provides coverage of satellites and other objects in deep space and the geostationary belt.
Maj. Pat Slaughter, 1 SOPS assistant director of operations, explained that the vehicle has continued to amaze commanders by demonstrating a capability beyond its design and the way it operates as a space asset.
“The system is extremely capable,” Slaughter said. “Our mission partners at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory developed the vehicle’s mission planning software so that it knows what to look for once we load the mission plan. It knows where it needs to look in space to see the objects it’s been tasked to find.”
In other words, 1 and 7 SOPS operators don’t need to manually point SBSS’s payload. Instead, they receive taskings from the Joint Space Operations Center. When the JSPOC seeks information to update its satellite catalog, it tasks assets such as SBSS.
“Our operators take the information from the tasking, load that into the software and a mission plan is generated,” Slaughter said. “Once SBSS gathers observations, Team 8-Ball operators send the information back to the JSPOC. The JSPOC in turn, can then fuse data from other sources to gain a big picture of orbital information.”
According to an Air Force Space Command release, SBSS is an agile sensor, unconstrained by ground limitations, so it can be tasked to look at high-interest objects on a more frequent basis.
Manor said the SBSS’s IOC achievement wouldn’t have been possible without an extreme amount of team work between 1 and 7 SOPS, the Space and Missile Systems Center, U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space, Air Force Space Command and contractor mission partners.
“Initial Operational Capability is just the beginning for us,” Manor said. “We’re going to continue to maximize the vehicle’s capabilities and find new and innovative ways to support the joint force and nation.”