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Satellite Communications Technology

SMC sets new standard of success for acquisition and operations of SensorSat

(9 October 2019 - SMC) The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-5 satellite, also known as SensorSat, will reach Full Operational Capability declaration later this year.

Marking a significant milestone of success for the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the 18th Space Control Squadron, ORS-5 will continue to expand Space Domain Awareness.

ORS-5 launched Aug. 26, 2017, and reached Operational Acceptance and Initial Operational Capability May 31, 2018.

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ORS-5, also known as SensorSat, is a single satellite constellation with a primary mission to provide space situational awareness. It measures about five feet long, two and a half feet wide, and weighs about 250 pounds. It will operate from a low, zero inclination orbit approximately 372 miles above the earth to aid the U.S. military's tracking of other satellites and space debris in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles above the equator, commonly used by defense-related communications satellites, television broadcasting stations, and international space platforms. (courtesy: MIT LL)

Enhancing orbital observation

ORS-5 is part of the U.S.’s Space Surveillance Network, which is the responsibility of the Combined Space Force Component Command (CFSCC) through the 18th Space Control Squadron. It detects, tracks and catalogs man-made objects orbiting Earth such as active and inactive satellites, spent rocket parts and fragmentation debris, informing military, civil and commercial space operators if tracked objects may interfere with the satellites on orbit.

“The diverse viewing geometries enabled by sensors in different orbit regimes, combined with ORS-5 data, have greatly increased the reliability, responsiveness, and accuracy of the space catalog,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, Commander, CFSCC and 14th Air Force.

Data obtained from ORS-5 is also used in predicting when and where decaying space objects are located and where they may re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

“ORS-5 has become the largest contributor of data to the Space Surveillance Network and has greatly exceeded performance expectations,” said Capt. Jacqueline Salas, ORS-5 Program Manager.

Going fast to maintain superiority

Rapid innovation has always been the goal for ORS-5 during its development, and now its employment.

“ORS-5 is a prime example of what SMC can achieve: the boldness and energy of a successful program that meets with ultimate success due to the exceptional efforts of our team,” said Col. Stephen Purdy, Special Programs Director.

The ORS-5 development team, comprised of the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, the precursor organization to the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and SMC’s Directorate of Special Programs, exceeded all expectations by taking a new approach to risk and mission assurance in order to rapidly deploy capabilities to meet U.S. and Allied warfighter needs across the entire spectrum of operations from peacetime through conflict.

“U.S. Strategic Command asked us to go fast, and we did,” said Purdy. “ORS-5 is the perfect embodiment of SMC’s rapid reaction and technology tenets and what we can do when we apply its principles.”

The operational impact and increased effectiveness of ORS-5 is noteworthy despite several initial inherent challenges.

SMC made some choices that proved innovative and cost effective to ORS-5’s successful outcome. For example, choosing MIT/Lincoln Labs as its partner and the use of the SMC Development Corps’ Directorate of Innovation and Prototyping Multi-Mission Space Operations Center 2.1’s existing ground structure provided a high degree of autonomy, which made it possible to achieve a low-cost framework. Developing a small launch vehicle and miniaturized satellite systems contributed to its goal of reduced satellite operations manpower through automation, while also leveraging standard off-the-shelf spacecraft components.

SMC continues to collaborate with the national and international communities on future Space Domain Awareness spacecraft, leveraging original components from the ORS-5 design.

“It speaks volumes to the high level of expertise from our entire team of operators, engineers and sustainers. It has also shown us that rapid development and successful deployment is not only achievable, but is now the expectation in future projects. ORS-5’s success has already factored into our current and next-generation SMC portfolio,” said Salas.