By Scott Prater
The Space Based Space Surveillance Block 10 satellite, a vehicle operated by the 1st Space Operations Squadron here, earned full operational capability recently following a declaration from Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, Air Force Space Command, Air, Space and Cyberspace Operations director.
Launched in September 2010, SBSS is the Air Force’s eye in space. It’s a low-earth orbit sensor that provides all-weather, 24-hour space situational awareness data to assist commanders throughout the military in detecting, identifying and tracking potential hazards in space. In essence, SBSS is helping provide a better understanding of the space environment.
The satellite earned initial operational capability in August 2012, but needed to show continued effectiveness to earn the new designation.
“In order for SBSS to achieve FOC it needed to meet operational, equipment, logistics, manpower and facility requirements that were set forth during the acquisition process,” said Capt. Daniel Coleman, 1 SOPS flight commander. “This FOC declaration signifies complete and mature logistics and sustainment processes for this one-of-a-kind asset.”
Built by Ball Aerospace Technologies Corporation and the Boeing company, SBSS uses a two-axis, gimbaled optical telescope to provide coverage of satellites and other objects in the geostationary belt.
“Since earning IOC, team members from 1 SOPS successfully increased the sensitivity and stability of SBSS’s sensor,” said Capt. William Westcott, 1 SOPS mission commander. “We were able to better understand and resolve some difficulties after IOC, which allowed us to gain FOC.”
Though the vehicle was designed to view earth’s geostationary orbit, SBSS has proven a capability beyond its original intent, providing users with positional data on objects in both medium-earth orbit and low-earth orbit.
Crews with 1 SOPS field SBSS taskings from U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. One key SBSS capability allows operators to input a given tasking without needing to point the satellite’s sensor. Operators can take the information directly from the tasking, load that into the system’s mission-planning software and a mission plan is generated. Once the vehicle gathers its observations, operators can then send the information back to the JSPOC.
As an asset that resides in space, SBSS is an agile sensor, unconstrained by ground limitations, so it can be tasked to look at objects of interest on a more frequent basis.
“As space becomes increasingly congested it is imperative that we have as complete space situational awareness as is possible,” said Lt. Col. Toby Doran, 1 SOPS commander. “The 1 SOPS team is honored to be leading new paths in that endeavor, and FOC of SBSS marks another milestone signifying a strengthening of the Space Surveillance Network.”
The Air Force’s eye in space will continue to provide a unique capability during the next decade, whether it’s operating as a low earth-orbit sensor or helping space vehicles avoid the many thousand pieces of debris orbiting the planet. The men and women of 1 SOPS continue to support that mission.