The United States Space Force recently launched a pair of new satellites to test its early warning system for detecting ballistic and hypersonic missiles, as well as new advanced tracking technologies. The recent launch, carried out into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, also deployed a spacecraft carrying several classified payloads.
Context: the US Space Force
According to his websitethe US Space Force (USSF) “is responsible for organizing, training, and equipping Guardians to conduct global space operations that improve how our joint and coalition forces fight, while providing decision makers military options to achieve national objectives”.
This mission allows the organization to develop weapons systems, as well as strategies to ensure the security of space and American airspace. Like the rest of the military, the USSF is based in the Pentagon, and many of its members come from the US Air Force. Although the USSF is primarily operated by military personnel, it allows civilians join. This allows for a wider range of perspectives on methods to make the space safer and more democratic.
Analysis: Development of an early warning system
Teams from the USSF and Atlas V (part of the United Launch Alliance, ULA) launched the pair of satellites from Cape Canaveral. The launch was intended to test tracking technology, as well as ballistic and hypersonic systems on the satellites. The total cost of the mission $1.1 billion but had a successful launch as the rocket exploded with 2.3 million pounds of thrust. The mission ended after six hours when the rocket placed the two satellites into Earth orbit 22,300 miles into the atmosphere.
According Gary Wentz, ULA Vice President of Government and Commercial Programs, “This mission has once again demonstrated ULA’s unparalleled ability to accurately deliver the nation’s most critical assets into highly complex orbit. Our strong partnership with the USSF team is critical to maintaining our nation’s security advantages and achieving strong mission assurance. Thank you to the ULA team and our mission partners for the indelible commitment to mission success. ULA launched 151 rocket missions, all of which were successfully completed.
Looking Ahead: Next Steps for Space Force
This satellite launch is just the beginning of the USSF’s plans for the future. Currently, the USSF website includes several organizations it collaborates with, which includes the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and MIT. While the exact types of weapons the USSF is developing remain unclear, the recent Cape Canaveral launch gives us a pretty good idea of what’s to come and what to expect from the new branch of the military in the years to come.
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a Debrief Writer and Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado at Boulder and NIST). It focuses on deep technology, metaverse and quantum technology. You can find more of his work on his website: https://kennacastleberry.com/