U.S. Deploys New Space Satellite to Track Space Threats, Junk

Satellite Launch

A new satellite will allow the U.S. Air Force to keep a closer watch on space objects roaming the Earth’s orbit, as well as improve the military’s “space situational awareness.”

The Air Force launched the Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) satellite in late August by using a converted missile, the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket. The ORS-5 took off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and only required less than $100 million for its launch and development.

Coverage Area

The U.S. added the 140-kilo satellite to its GPS constellation in space to monitor the geosynchronous belt, which covers around 22,300 miles above. CAST Navigation explains that this region serves as the operational site for several communications and weather satellites from government and commercial entities.

Satellite operators prefer a geosynchronous orbit since the space equipment’s rotation aligns with the same speed of Earth. Hence, satellites always float over the same area on the ground. Also called SensorSat, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory designed and built the ORS-5 satellite.

Rocket Science

The use of conversion of the Peacekeeper missiles partly served as one reason behind the relatively small amount of invested in the ORS-5 mission, which cost $87.5 million. The Air Force decommissioned the missiles in 2005 and replaced with the Minuteman missiles. Since 2000, the Minotaur rocket group has an unblemished record of 16 successful satellite launches.

Rich Straka, vice president and general manager of Orbital ATK’s launch vehicles division, said that the deployment in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station represented a first for a Minotaur rocket. It also proved the rocket’s viability as a launch booster from four major space stations in the country, Straka added.

The new satellite will allow the U.S. military to enhance its eyes and ears in space, while strengthening its awareness on potential risks brought by space junk roaming the Earth’s orbit.