The U.S. Air Force launched two spy satellites into space early this morning but these “spy satellites” won’t be charged with peering inside North Korea or ISIS controlled areas but rather will be charged with playing policeman or “neighborhood watch” in space itself ensuring that the United States’ assets in space are safe from other nations as well as space junk orbiting the Earth.
Third and fourth additions to the formerly classified GSSAP
If you were to listen to Donald Trump you would think the only threats that the United States faces are from ISIS, Mexican immigrants, NAFTA and other bad trade deals. You would also hear from The Donald that somehow the United States military, the most powerful in the world as it happens, is a disgrace, weak and a failure. Thankfully, the United States military isn’t week and is tasked with considerably more than those three threats and projects power to keep China, Russia and others in check. The U.S. Air Force is also tasked with patrolling space in with the military’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) which was classified as recently as 2014.
The launch of two satellites as part of this program took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:52 a.m. EDT (0452 GMT) Friday, August 19 with the launch of a rocket with the two satellites hitching a ride.
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Assuming no issues, the satellites will enter an orbit roughly 22,300 miles (35,900 kilometers) above Earth, in an area that has no shortage of other military satellites and key communication satellites owned by both the military, the U.S. government and private interests.
What are they for? Depends who you ask.
“The first two GSSAP satellites have performed remarkably well,” Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems commander and Air Force program executive officer for space, said in a statement prior to the launch on Thursday.
“These next two satellites will add to that capability and enable us to understand more completely things [that occur] in the geosynchronous orbit to a very high quality,” he continued. “It’s a key piece in the puzzle for space situational awareness.”
The U.S. Air Force was quick to point out that the United States is not interested in militarizing space, but that said, who knows what might be on those birds.
According to Air Force spokeswoman Sarah Burnett in an interview with USA Today, the satellites are a deterrent to potential “hostile operations in space as an extension of the terrestrial battlefield [by other nations].”
“The U.S. is not seeking to weaponize space,” added Burnett. “Our goal is to work with all responsible space-faring nations to ensure a safe, secure, sustainable, and stable space environment.”
Those sentiments were not echoed around the world. “The spy satellites will be used by the U.S. Air Force for surveillance over foreign spacecraft,” the Russian news agency TASS weighed in after the launch of the first two in 2014.
Assuming there is no advanced weaponry aboard the satellites that would allow for shooting down of anti-satellite missiles by Russia and China which are likely in possession of such armaments, the satellites along with the others could tell where an attack came from or confirm that it was just a collision with all the junk floating around space if a satellite suddenly went down.
The U.S. Air Force alone is spending over $10 billion in space this year and we likely will have no idea where that money is going.
“Space has become a ubiquitous element of everything … and leadership of the free world relies on,” retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula recently told the pro-military Air Force Times. “It’s very important to be on the leading edge of capitalizing on new technologies to keep us ahead of potential adversary moves.”