The Air Force plans to launch two operational satellites and one experimental satellite into near-geosynchronous Earth orbit July 23.
According to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, “these operational and experimental systems will enhance the nation’s ability to monitor and assess events regarding our military and commercial systems. In essence, they will create a space neighborhood watch capability.”
The two operational satellites are part of the Air Force’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP. The GSSAP satellites will provide U.S. Strategic Command with space situational awareness data allowing for more accurate tracking and characterization of man-made orbiting objects. The satellites will drift a safe distance away from the GEO belt while surveilling the area to further enable spaceflight safety.
As space becomes increasingly congested, contested, and competitive, it is imperative to protect the systems in space on which the world depends. Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, said, “We support the peaceful use of space for all countries but we believe it is necessary to increase our ability to detect and attribute any threatening or disruptive actions.”
The experimental satellite program, known as Automated Navigation and Guidance Experiment for Local Space, or ANGELS, is led by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
This science and technology satellite will conduct safe research activities around the upper stage of its DELTA IV launch vehicle. ANGELS will test new space situational awareness techniques and technologies while performing safe, automated spacecraft operations to support and enhance future U.S. missions.
AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello said, “these experiments will enable future satellite systems to achieve a more rapid and improved space situational awareness capability with fewer operators while maintaining safety as the top priority.”
Although the two GSSAP spacecraft and the AFRL ANGELS experimental spacecraft will launch on the same United Launch Alliance DELTA IV booster out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, the missions and objectives are distinctly different and are not associated with one another.
However, each of these satellite programs contributes to the Air Force’s space mission in different ways, and is a part of the broader Air Force plan to improve space situational awareness. As the Air Force continues to develop cutting-edge and essential space programs, James said “this launch is a remarkable accomplishment in the Air Force development of technologies to ensure the safe and responsible use of space.”