US Gen. William Shelton. (US Air Force)
ORLANDO, FLA. — The Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSAP) system will have electro-optical sensors and be based in near-geosynchronous orbit, drifting below and above the geo belt. The US Air Force will be able to control the movement of the constellation, made up of two satellites, in order to position its “neighborhood watch” surveillance.
The purpose of the system is to collect space situational awareness data for tracking man-made orbiting objects, according to a fact sheet released by the Air Force.
The system will “have a clear, unobstructed and distinct vantage point for viewing resident space objects orbiting earth in a near-geosynchronous orbit without the disruption of weather or atmosphere that can limit ground-based systems,” the fact sheet said.
The news was announced by Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, during his speech at Friday’s Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium here.
In comments after his speech, Shelton confirmed that the program was previously classified. He added that a second set of satellites will be launched in 2016 as backups, although he said Space Command hopes to see the satellites live longer than that two-year window.
The decision to launch GSAP is “a response to the activity we’ve seen in space,” he said. Shelton has talked in the past about the need for more space situational awareness, particularly given the number of countries now able to put objects into space and the dangers space debris could pose to the US satellite network.
However, he declined to provide information on the cost of the system, designed by Orbital Sciences. A request for information from Orbital was not immediately returned.
Launch will occur on a Delta IV rocket provided by the United Launch Alliance, out of Cape Canaveral.