WASHINGTON — Two U.S. Air Force high-orbiting space surveillance satellites successfully completed testing Sept. 29 and are now operational, the service said in an Oct. 8 press release.
The two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, satellites have been on orbit since July 2014. They are designed to keep tabs on objects in geosynchronous orbit, a belt of space 36,000 kilometers above the equator that is home to the Pentagon’s critical communications and missile warning satellites.
Air Force officials disclosed the previously classified GSSAP in February 2014, just four months before the first two satellites were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket.
“We look forward to integrating this new system and capability into our space-based space situational awareness architecture and enhancing space situational awareness,” Lt. Col. Casey Beard, commander of the Air Force’s 1st Space Operations Squadron, said in the release.
Built by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, the GSSAP satellites are controlled by operators at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Two additional GSSAP satellites are notionally scheduled to launch in 2016.
The declaration of initial operational capability for the first GSSAP satellites could be seen as anticlimatic given that they have already been pressed into service. During a Sept. 16 press briefing, Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said the satellites had been temporarily taken out of test mode to make observations of specific objects in geosynchronous orbit and had “performed remarkably.”
“The users that requested the information are extremely pleased with the pictures we gave them,” Hyten said. “The pictures we gave them are truly eye-watering. It’s amazing. You don’t often get to see satellites flying.”
Hyten has described geosynchronous orbit as “our most valuable orbit.”