USAF puts space warfighting focus on awareness

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. —With the recent development of the first space warfighting concepts of operation, U.S. Air Force space leaders are focusing more on development on better space situational awareness.

“We have to keep track of every object in space,” Gen John “Jay” Raymond, commander, Air Force Space Command, said Sept. 20 during a media roundtable discussion at the annual Air Force Association Air Space Cyber conference here.

He took special notice of the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) to characterize and track objects in space, pointing out the service recently accepted two new operational satellites, which recently completed required tests, into the space awareness network.

Part of the Air Force’s orbital “neighborhood space watch” efforts, the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program 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.

The program supports U.S. Strategic Command’s ability to collect data on man-made orbiting objects and helps protect space assets that affect daily operations such as navigation and communication.

GSSAP satellites operate near the geosynchronous belt and have the capability to perform rendezvous and proximity operations, which allows for the space vehicle to maneuver near a resident space object of interest for surveillance and characterization while maintaining flight safety, the Air Force says.

Data from GSSAP contributes to timely and accurate orbital predictions, the Air Force points out, which can help satellites avoid collision.

“For every object space [relative to] every other object in space, they do an analysis, a conjunction assessment analysis,” Raymond said.

One of the ways the Air Force is improving this analysis, and as well as general space situational awareness, is through the commercial integration cell program, which in June 2015 started to co-locate representatives with commercial satellite operators within the Joint Space Operations Center.

During the conference roundtable discussion, Air Force officials noted a recent incident in which a commercial operator participating in the program was able to contact a Chinese satellite operator and prevent a potential collision with a commercial satellite.

While the Air Force can track space objects well enough to know their location and current orbits, speed and other features, Air Force space officials said, the service may not necessarily know what some of the attributes of certain satellite may be, what maneuvers it may ready to make or what its “intentions” are.

That is information, they said, that can be gleaned through work provided by the commercial integration cells.