Cyberspace unit helps telescope reach operational acceptance

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PETERSON SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo -- The Australian Department of Defence and the U.S. Space Force declared initial operational capability for the Space Surveillance Telescope at Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt, Australia, Sept. 30, 2022.

The SST is a military telescope that provides ground-based, broad-area search, detection and tracking of faint objects in deep space to help predict and avoid potential collisions, as well as detect and monitor asteroids.

U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, emphasized the need for strong international partnerships to continually improve U.S. and Allied space capabilities.

“Reaching initial operational capability is a major achievement that underscores the importance of working together to secure the ultimate high ground,” Raymond said. “My thanks and congratulations to our Australian partners and our Guardians and Airmen who have been collaborating for almost a decade to make this possible. I’m impressed at how far we’ve come together and look forward to continuing our close partnership as we work toward full operational capability.”

The SST was relocated from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, to Australia in 2017 as a combined effort to develop Australia’s space domain awareness capabilities. While the U.S. still owns the SST, Australia is responsible for the facilities and infrastructure, operators, and training.

 In March 2020, the SST captured its first images from Australia of objects in space. Since then, it has undergone a rigorous test and evaluation program to transition it from a scientific research system to a military asset ready to support ongoing operations.

The 96th Test Wing’s 45th Test Squadron took part in that testing and played a significant role in the telescope successfully reaching the IOC milestone.

The squadron’s members were part of the integrated developmental and operational test and evaluation team with Australia.  This testing began during the height of COVID-19 and despite strict protocols, the team adapted and kept the testing on schedule.

During the testing, 45th TS engineers noticed the SST’s weather requirement thresholds were too restrictive.  This limited the amount of time the telescope could operate.  The team recommended a threshold adjustment that greatly increased the SST’s availability for use.

The 45th team also identified limitations within the processing of tasking messages. By identifying this limitation early, the SST program was able to quickly overcome the processing issue and fully meet tasking requirements.

“The efforts of our team were a big part of the SST’s IOC success,” said Col David Hoffman, 96 CTG Commander.  “The expert balancing of adaptability and engineering rigor happens on a daily basis in the 45th Test Squadron and in the 96th Cyberspace Test Group.”

The SST will contribute to the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, a U.S. Space Command capability operated by the USSF to detect, track, catalog and identify artificial objects orbiting the earth. The telescope’s strategic location in Australia provides unique space domain awareness coverage in the region.

Space domain awareness refers to the study and monitoring of artificial objects, such as satellites and debris, orbiting the earth.

The SST is capable of imaging objects in geosynchronous orbit, approximately 22,000 miles above earth. Its data processing system can filter through more than a terabyte of data per night, as well as receive and process images in real time to determine precise satellite positions.

Full operational capability is projected to be achieved in late 2023.