Junk-tracking satellite sends back first signals

Boeing has received the first signals from its Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite following its launch on Saturday night from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The signals show that it’s functioning normally and is ready to begin orbital maneuvers and operational testing.

The SBSS Block 10 satellite will be the Air Force’s only space-based sensor capable of detecting and monitoring debris, satellites and other space objects, and thus won’t be disrupted by weather, atmosphere or time of day like ground-based systems.

The launch was postponed several times because of problems with the booster.

The satellite and its ground system are expected to improve the accuracy and timeliness of tracking and monitoring capabilities dramatically. The team says it can provide the flexibility to quickly respond to new and changing mission requirements.

“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 for Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems.

“America’s adversaries recognize this increasing dependence, which makes the need for enhanced space situational awareness more and more vital.”

Shortly after launch, the SBSS satellite began an automated sequence that deployed solar arrays, pointed them at the sun, and initialized satellite operations.

For the next two weeks, operators will carry out health checks on the satellite bus, followed by payload checkout. Tests include sending simulated space situational awareness tasks to the 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 turned over to the Air Force within 60 days.