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New telescope comes to AFSPC

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, Air Force Space Command director of strategic plans, programs, requirements and analysis, receives a model of the Space Surveillance Telescope from Dr. Steven Walker, Deputy Director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, at an event near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 18, 2016. SST has discovered 3,600 new asteroids, four comets and 69 near-Earth objects. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, Air Force Space Command director of strategic plans, programs, requirements and analysis, receives a model of the Space Surveillance Telescope from Dr. Steven Walker, Deputy Director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, at an event near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 18, 2016. SST has discovered 3,600 new asteroids, four comets and 69 near-Earth objects. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Dr. Eric Evans, Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, Dr. Lindsay Millard, Air Commodore Sally Pearson and Dr. Steven Walker attended an event to hand over the Space Surveillance Telescope from Defense Advanced Research Projects to Air Force Space Command near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 18, 2016. The telescope is an advanced telescope designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Dr. Eric Evans, Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, Dr. Lindsay Millard, Air Commodore Sally Pearson and Dr. Steven Walker attended an event to hand over the Space Surveillance Telescope from Defense Advanced Research Projects to Air Force Space Command near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 18, 2016. The telescope is an advanced telescope designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - The Milky Way is visible as the Space Surveillance Telescope performs nighttime operations near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico Oct. 18, 2016. The telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - The Milky Way is visible as the Space Surveillance Telescope performs nighttime operations near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico Oct. 18, 2016. The telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Light emits from the dome of the Space Surveillance Telescope near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 18, 2016. The telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Light emits from the dome of the Space Surveillance Telescope near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 18, 2016. The telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - The design of the Space Surveillance Telescope makes it one of the most nimble telescopes in the world. Now operating near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, the telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - The design of the Space Surveillance Telescope makes it one of the most nimble telescopes in the world. Now operating near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, the telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - The Space Surveillance Telescope looks through the dome structure at a site near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - The Space Surveillance Telescope looks through the dome structure at a site near White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The telescope was designed for space situational awareness and will be moved to Australia to become part of the 21st Space Wing’s network of ground-based sensors by 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Dr. Lindsay Millard, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Space Surveillance Telescope program manager, addresses guests at a handover event held Oct. 18, 2016, near Socorro, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. DARPA officially handed responsibility of the telescope to Air Force Space Command. (courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Dr. Lindsay Millard, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Space Surveillance Telescope program manager, addresses guests at a handover event held Oct. 18, 2016, near Socorro, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. DARPA officially handed responsibility of the telescope to Air Force Space Command. (courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Air Force Space Command officially received the handover of a new space surveillance telescope from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at a mountaintop ceremony Oct. 17 near White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, Director of Strategic Plans, Programs, Requirements and Analysis at Headquarters AFSPC, accepted the handover of the telescope on behalf of AFSPC from Dr. Lindsay Millard, DARPA program manager for SST.

‘The domain of space is critical to our daily life, communications and defense,” said Millard. “SST is focused on tracking and identifying debris and satellites about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth to determine how much debris there is.”

In addition, other speakers included Dr. Eric Evans from Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Lincoln Laboratory; Dr. Steven Walker, Deputy Director of DARPA; and Air Commodore Sally Pearson, Director of General Surveillance and Control for the Royal Australian Air Force.

The speakers emphasized the need for a more sophisticated space situational awareness and a complete view of the low Earth orbit and Geosynchronous orbits where our satellites fly.

“That’s why the U.S. Department of Defense has made space situational awareness a top priority and why few areas of DARPA research are as important to the future of U.S. and global security,” said Walker. “In Air Force Space Command, we at DARPA could not ask for a more qualified and enthusiastic partner.”

The telescope received first light in February 2011 and has been contributing to our space situational awareness in a prolific way. In 2015 alone, the SST had 7.2 million asteroid observations and is on track to have 10 million in 2016. SST has discovered 3,600 new asteroids, four comets and 69 near-Earth objects.

The telescope is able to complete all these observations because of technology advances in several different parts of its design. The camera technology and image analysis software enables much faster discovery and tracking of previously unseen or hard-to-find small space objects. The telescope mount is one of the quickest and most nimble in the world.

“SST gives us the ability to optically search and identify deep space objects from [it’s future] southern hemisphere location,” said Armagno. “Now we can see 10,000 objects at one time. Since the world has changed and the threat has changed, we must remember we are not operating in a benign environment.”

In 2013, the U.S. Secretary of Defense and Australian Minister of Defense agreed to relocate the SST from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station in Western Australia. The move allows for continued expansion of the Space Surveillance Network into the southern hemisphere.

The Royal Australian Air Force and AFSPC will jointly operate and maintain the telescope from its future home in western Australia.

Australia offers a uniquely beneficial vantage point for SST operations and demonstration of its enhanced algorithms and camera. After the move, SST will be owned by the United States Air Force, but operated and maintained by the Royal Australian Air Force. It will be a dedicated ground-based sensor for GEO-belt situational awareness.

“Australia is fully committed to this partnership and work through any issues to bring space surveillance to both nations,” Pearson said.

SST will enable ground-based, broad-area search, detection, and tracking of faint objects in deep space enabling space mission assurance and asteroid detection. The telescope has been used to collect data on behalf of the Large Synoptic Space Telescope consortium and NASA Orbital Debris Program Office to test its capabilities.

The SST is adjacent to another AFSPC telescope, the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance owned and operated by the 21st Space Wing, also in White Sands.

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