The United States Space Force just sent two satellites into space in an effort to increase awareness in space. The satellites are a part of the Space Force’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP).
The program will allow the Space Force to find and track satellites and also determine what kind of satellites are in space. It could also determine the capabilities of these satellites by moving through space and closer to other country’s space hardware.
Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program
Although details about the GSSAP program are difficult to ascertain, Chief of Space Operations General Jay Raymond shed a bit of light on the program. Speaking as a part of the Mitchell Institute’s Schriever Spacepower Forum, Gen. Raymond said that the geosynchronous domain is “a very large volume of space that you have to cover and this provides additional capacity for us.”
“And so historically, the way we have surveilled or had awareness of a domain is, we've taken observations from radars (with) optical capabilities. And we've come up with an address and space, if you will, of objects. And we've been worried about making sure two things don't collide. That we can keep that domain safe for all which is critical. But it's not sufficient. If you move into a warfighting domain, you have to have more knowledge than just where something is, you'd have to have some insights into what those capabilities are.”
The GSSAP-5 and -6 satellites are built by Northrop Grumman. GSSAP-1 and GSSAP-2 were launched in 2014, while the next pair of satellites were launched in 2016.
I Spy with my Little Eye
The satellites are highly secretive, though they are thought to be capable of inspecting other satellites in orbit and snapping photos in addition to collecting other intelligence.
Several other countries have similar satellite capabilities, including Russia and China. The United States has known about so-called Russian “inspector satellites” that can fire projectiles at other objects in space for some time.
China also possesses space assets that are likely able to track other objects in space and may be capable of interference through jamming or physical attack as well. China has previously conducted orbital warfare against American assets in space, dazzling satellites from the ground with laser beams and electronic jamming.
Given the importance of the space domain for both the United States, Russia, and China, more sophisticated satellites – as well as anti-satellite assets and satellite snoopers – are expected.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson
Image: United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifts off with the U.S. Space Force's fifth and sixth satellites for the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, U.S., January 21, 2022. REUTERS/Joe Skipper.