US: The US Air Force (USAF) is planning to launch two new and previously classified space situational awareness satellites into geosynchronous orbit this year, according to Gen William Shelton, Leader, Air Force Space Command. The spacecraft were developed covertly by the Air Force and Orbital Sciences under the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSAP), according to service officials. “The first two spacecraft will be boosted this year with two more to follow in 2016 to prevent a gap in surveillance on activities in the geosynchronous belt,” said Shelton. “This is where commercial satellite communications are based, as well as critical national security assets such as the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) early missile warning system and Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellation designed to provide jam-proof communications for the president even during a nuclear event.”
The two GSAP satellites will drift above and below the GEO belt, using electro-optical sensors to collect information on satellites and other objects in that region, Shelton said. They will be maneuverable, allowing them to be tasked, much like reconnaissance aircraft to collect intelligence on specific targets, according to Shelton. The satellites will provide accurate tracking and characterisation of satellites. GSAP will have a clear, unobstructed and distinct vantage point for viewing resident space objects orbiting Earth in a near-geosynchronous orbit without the disruption of weather or atmosphere that can limit ground-based systems. Data from the GEO SSA system will uniquely contribute to timely and accurate orbital predictions, enhancing our knowledge of the geosynchronous orbit environment and further enabling space flight safety to include satellite collision avoidance, according to a US fact sheet. The GSAP satellites will be operated by the 50th Space Wing at Shriever AFB, Colorado.
Source: Aviation Week