WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s first Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite launched Sept. 25 and is transmitting signals that indicate it is functioning normally and ready to begin orbital maneuvers, prime contractorannounced Sept. 26.
The long-delayed SBSS spacecraft is designed to use a gimbaled optical telescope to keep tabs on objects in geostationary orbit from its vantage point in low Earth orbit. The satellite was built by Seal Beach, Calif.-based Boeing and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo.
The SBSS satellite was carried to orbit by an Orbital Sciences Corp.-assembled Minotaur 4 rocket that launched out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Boeing operators at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., received the first signals from the spacecraft indicating it is healthy and ready to begin a two-week checkout phase, a company press release said. After that, payload testing will begin, and Boeing plans to hand the satellite over to the Air Force within 60 days.
This was the first orbital launch of the Minotaur 4, which uses refurbished U.S. strategic missile hardware for its first three stages with a commercial fourth-stage motor.
The Minotaur 4 was supposed to make its debut a year ago until the Air Force discovered a problem with the rocket’s third-stage motor. A gas generator continued to run after the motor shut off, creating residual thrust that is a problem for a rocket designed to put a satellite into a very precise orbit. New hardware had to be designed and built to correct the problem.