Space force

Space Force launches new intelligence-gathering satellites

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(Photo: USAF)
The US Air Force Space Force has launched two new satellites. GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6, two long-awaited satellites built by Northrop Grumman, were sent from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida late last week. Their mission? Monitoring.

The “GSSAP” in each name refers to the Space Force’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, responsible for tracking and characterizing man-made objects as they orbit in space. Typically, any satellite involved in GSSAP has the capability to perform rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO), which involves maneuvering the satellite close to an object of interest and collecting data about it. object while minimizing the likelihood of a collision. Each satellite maintains a geosynchronous orbit, essentially matching Earth’s orbit, as they gather as much information as possible about their surroundings in an effort to evade attacks such as laser glare, electronic warfare jamming and cyberattacks.

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6 for the US Space Force on January 21. (Photo: United Launch Alliance)

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman began work on GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6 in 2020. At the time, both satellites were scheduled to launch that year, but the highly classified program delayed the launch for unknown reasons. It is also unclear how GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6 differ from their predecessors; while a Space Systems Command spokesperson said the new satellites “will provide enhanced space domain awareness data to the National Space Defense Center and other domestic users”, no one has mentioned how (or even if) the pair is more advanced than the previous four.

That being said, the entire suite of GSSAP satellites fulfills what many consider to be crucial tasks in the age of rapidly accelerating space exploration. It is essentially a neighborhood watch program beyond our atmosphere: if another country with an impressive space program, such as Russia or China, were to deploy equipment that malfunctioned or carried an intention malicious, the United States would probably want to know. Space Force leadership has made several vague comments about the potential for space warfare, including at Schriever Space Power Forum at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies last week. (Don’t lose your temper, though; it’s worth remembering that Space Force exists for exactly that. goalthus their attention will always remain on the unthinkable.)

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