Science

US Preparing to Launch another Satellite that Spies on Chinese and Russian Satellites

By | Feb 16, 2017 03:51 AM EST
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The Minotaur IV rocket that will launch SensorSat. (Photo : Orbital ATK)

An upgraded, four-stage Minotaur IV launch vehicle on July 15 will launch a classified U.S. satellite built to spy on other satellites such as those from Russia and China from a unique geosynchronous equatorial orbit above the Equator.

Known as Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5), this mission run by the U.S. Air Force will orbit a small spacecraft called "SensorSat" that will track enemy satellites and other objects in geosynchronous orbit. SensorSat will also track orbital debris and test technologies for future space missions.

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What's peculiar about the ORS-5 mission is SensorSat's 600 kilometer-high; 0 degree-inclination orbit above the Equator. The geosynchronous orbital belt, which is where most large spy satellites are located, is some 36,000 km high.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory designed and built SensorSat, which weighs between 80 kg and 110 kg. The satellite will bridge a gap in Air Force surveillance of the critical geosynchronous orbit currently provided by the Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite launched in 2010 and due for retirement this year.

In July 2016, the air force confirmed the first of four new satellites of its SBSS system, which will better defend the U.S. military's most important in-orbit satellites, will launch in 2021.

The SBSS/Block 20 constellation will include four satellites. It will replace the current SBSS satellite, the Block 10 Pathfinder (a single satellite) equipped with a Space-Based Visible (SBV) sensor. Pathfinder was launched in 2010 into a sun-synchronous, low Earth orbit.

Pathfinder's role is to improve the ability of the air force to detect deep space objects by 80% over the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration of the Mid-Course Space Experiment/Space-Based Visible (MSX/SBV) sensor system.

On the other hand, the Block 20 constellation will provide timely and much improved space situation awareness to meet future space control operations. It will detect and track space objects such as satellites and orbital debris, generating data the Department of Defense will use in support of military operations.


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