American, Australian defense officials mark transfer of Space Surveillance Telescope to US Air Force
On October 19, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) handed over the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST)—the most sophisticated instrument of its kind ever developed—to U.S. Air Force Space Command at a mountaintop ceremony in New Mexico. The event marked the formal transition of SST from an Agency-led design and construction program to ownership and operation by the Air Force, which has announced plans to operate the telescope in Australia jointly with the Australian government.
SST embodies breakthroughs in telescope design, camera technology, and image analysis software and enables much faster discovery and tracking of previously unseen or hard-to-find small space objects. This optical telescope is poised to revolutionize space situational awareness and help prevent potential collisions with satellites or the Earth itself.
The event featured numerous senior DARPA, U.S. Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force guest speakers, each of whom shared their perspectives on SST’s progress and the potential contributions it could make to national security. Excerpts from the speakers follow, in order of presentation:
- Lindsay Millard, DARPA program manager for SST: “SST is focused on tracking and identifying debris and satellites about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. Besides the fact that this is very far away, which means that most objects are going to be very faint, the mission is made especially difficult because of the huge amount of space we’re talking about. GEO has a volume of tens of thousands of oceans. Before SST, no single telescope could handle both of these challenges: seeing things that are very small, very faint, and very far away, simultaneously over an enormously vast area.”
- Eric Evans, director of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) leading the team that built SST: “The SST was built as a technology demonstrator and it has sensitivity beyond what we could do before, nationally, to look for very, very small objects, and there’s a great need for this.”
- Steven Walker, DARPA deputy director: “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. In Air Force Space Command, we at DARPA could not ask for a more qualified and enthusiastic partner.” (Full remarks)
- Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, director of strategic plans, programs, requirements and analysis, Headquarters Air Force Space Command: “SST is a giant leap forward in space cooperation with the United States and Australia. It not only benefits each of our respective nations, but it benefits anyone that uses space across the globe.”
- Air Commodore Sally Pearson, director of general surveillance and control, Royal Australian Air Force: “The U.S./Australian partnership has become a special relationship with few equivalents in the world. Australia is accommodating a C-band space surveillance radar from the Caribbean, and the Space Surveillance Telescope from New Mexico, both in Western Australia. I acknowledge DARPA and its partners, MIT Lincoln Labs, and other organizations that are involved in making this great capability great. I was going to say, I did ask for additional luggage space in order to start bringing bits of it back with me.”