2 minute readBoeing ISR satellite starts beeping earth

The Minotaur IV launched the Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite, a first-of-its-kind satellite that can detect and track orbiting space objects from space.

The Minotaur IV rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

The first Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite built for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Boeing ‘has acquired initial on-orbit signals’ according to a statement released by the company, which is says indicates the satellite to be functioning normally and is ‘ready to begin orbital maneuvers and operational testing’.

The SBSS Block 10 satellite, which was built for the U.S. Air Force by a Boeing-led team that includes Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, was launched at 2141 hours local time on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in the US by an Orbital Sciences Minotaur IV rocket. “The first signals from the advanced space surveillance satellite were received a short time later,” says the statement, adding that the Boeing SBSS Satellite Operations Center at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado in the US confirmed the health of the satellite.

Once operational, the USAF SBSS satellite will be its ‘only space-based sensor capable of detecting and monitoring debris, satellites and other space objects without the disruptions from weather, atmosphere or time of day that limit ground-based observations’.

Significantly, China had last month made two of its Shijian research satellites perform unexplained maneuvers, which brought them in unusually close proximity to each other. Some reports worried about this being a test of China’s offensive capabilities in space. China has also earlier displayed its ability to launch Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons.

“The United States depends on space assets for security, communications, weather forecasting, and many other essential services,” said Craig Cooning, Vice President and General Manager, Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems. “America’s adversaries recognize this increasing dependence, which makes the need for enhanced space situational awareness more and more vital. Today, the Air Force and Boeing SBSS team are delivering this advanced capability to the nation.”

According to the statement, the SBSS satellite began an automated sequence after launch, that ‘deployed solar arrays, pointed them at the sun, and initialized satellite operations’. “For the next two weeks, operators will perform health checks on the satellite bus, followed by payload checkout. Tests include sending simulated space situational awareness tasks to the SBSS Satellite Operations Center, which will send commands to the satellite and collect data from those tasks for the Air Force Joint Space Operations Center. The SBSS system is expected to be ready to perform its mission and be turned over to the Air Force within 60 days,” it says.

Boeing is responsible for overall program management, systems engineering and integration, design and development of the SBSS Satellite Operations Center at Schriever Air Force Base and system operations and maintenance. Ball Aerospace developed, designed, manufactured, integrated and tested the satellite, using the Boeing-built onboard mission data processor.

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