US Space Force's new telescope will detect and track faint objects in deep space

Achieves a major milestone in the program that will take about a decade to complete.
Ameya Paleja
The Space Surveillance Telescope
The Space Surveillance Telescope

US Space Force 

The Space Surveillance Telescope (SST), a military telescope capable of detecting and tracking faint objects in the sky, has now been declared to be capable of initial operations by the Australian Department of Defense and U.S. Space Force, an organizational press release said.

With the rampant increase in space-based technologies, the threat of a space attack has also increased manifold. Last month, Interesting Engineering reported how the plans of the adversarial countries to use space weapons got the Department of Defense into a huddle to discuss measures to counter them.

However, it isn't just now that the U.S. is working to counter such threats. Telescopes like the SST have been part of the Pentagon's Space Surveillance Network (SSN), which tracks thousands of objects in space, including space debris and active satellites.

Addressing the gap in the SSN

Like every other defense program, the SSN is a work in progress too. To strengthen its coverage in the Southern Hemisphere, the Pentagon signed an agreement with Australia in 2013 to move the SST to the smallest continent.

As per the agreement, the SST, which was installed at the White Sands Missiles Range in New Mexico was to be relocated to Australia in 2017. Built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the SST can locate and track debris up to 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface.

Post the relocation, the SST is still owned by the U.S. but operated and maintained by Royal Australian Air Force. In March 2020, the SST took its first images from the new home at the Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt. After over two years of rigorous testing and evaluation, it has now been declared to have the initial operational capability. The press release added that full operational capacity is expected to be achieved by late 2023.

US Space Force's new telescope will detect and track faint objects in deep space
The Space Surveillance Telescope

Domain awareness, a top priority

Domain awareness is a top priority for the newly established Space Force and U.S. Space Command. The responsibility for space awareness has been assigned to Space Delta 2 at the USSF, which is also tasked to assign and attach forces for executing combat-ready domain awareness, the press release said.

Most Popular

According to the estimates published by the Union of Concerned Scientists in April this year, there are 5,500 active spacecraft in orbit currently, and the number is expected to rise to 58,000 in the coming decade meteorically.

Although most of these spacecraft will be launched for rendering civilian services such as improved communications and connectivity, the large size of their constellations could impact the space environment, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study published recently said.

The added congestion is expected to increase space debris and make it challenging to deconflict objects and avoid collisions. To counter these effects, experts have suggested greater controls and norms on using space and creating regulations for repositioning or disposing of old spacecraft, Defense News reported.

message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron