04:49 GMT26 May 2020
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    The United States Air Force plans to launch a next-generation Space-Based Space Surveillance system in 2021.

    The Space Based Space Surveillance System (SBSS) will be used to track space objects, primarily satellites, in geosynchronous orbit. Located some 36,000 kilometers above the equator, the area is densely-populated, with fierce competition for satellite placement.

    This competition for orbital proximity, rooted in the numerous advantages of having a satellite at a specific orbital distance from the Earth's surface and hanging above a specific point, has led some US and government officials to feel threatened by Russian and Chinese devices, and has placed a high priority on the SBSS program.

    The Bloc 10 Pathfinder, the first satellite in the series, was launched in 2010. It was initially planned to function for 7 years, but its lifetime has been extended to 2020, when a constellation of three next-generation satellites are set to be placed in orbit.

    Some $27 million has been allocated to the US Air Force for the SBSS program. The earlier lifetime extension of the original Pathfinder satellite shifted the schedule of the SBSS ‘Follow-on' program however, resulting in significantly reduced funding. The US Air Force sent a letter to Congress, saying some $11 million of the original amount was excessive "due to re-phasing of the SBSS Follow-on program."

    Air Force spokeswoman Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli said in a July 22 email to SpaceNews that the SBSS funding "was aligned to match the adjusted program schedule, which allowed for the $11.5 [million] reduction."

    Annicelli said the launch of the follow-on satellites remains targeted for 2021, but did not detail other program schedule changes.

    One of the key proposed features of SBSS follow-on program is the possibility of hosting surveillance payloads on commercial communications satellites positioned in geosynchronous orbit.

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    Tags:
    Space, funding, surveillance, Pathfinder satellite, SBSS, US Air Force, AnnMarie Annicelli, United States
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