SBSS with its sensor is in the upper right, looking towards the geo belt

Update: Space.com says SBSS will track from an orbit of 392 miles (630 km).  Spaceflight Now says “a sun-synchronous orbit 336 miles above the planet,” and that checkout will last several months (vice sixty days in original), with maneuvers planned to raise the orbit by more than 50 miles.  Aviation Week says check out will take 210 days and that SBSS is in a 335 mile, 98 degree inclined orbit. Original post follows:

The Air Force’s Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) Satellite, also known as SBSS Block 10, launched last night riding on a Minotaur IV. The launch, which took place from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex-8, lifted off yesterday, Saturday, 25 September at 9:41 Pacific time.

Everything regarding the launch, orbital insertion, and early orbit ops are being reported as nominal.

SBSS is supposed to observe all the satellites in the geosynchronous belt at least once a day with its 30 centimeter telescope moving about on a gimballing arm.  It weighs about 2300 pounds and can produce up to 840 watts of power.  Of course, if SBSS can gimbal towards the geo belt, it can look in a number of other directions as well, certainly improving the nation’s space situational awareness abilities, to include space debris monitoring.  Space situational awareness begins with space surveillance in the same way that missile defense starts with missile warning.

Sixty days from now, after spacecraft checkout has been completed, it should be ready for turnover to the Air Force.

Boeing was awarded the contract in 2004 and the launch was supposed to first occur in December 2008 so while it’s late, it isn’t SBIRS late.  The program cost, including launch, is about $850 million.  If I’m doing my calculations correctly, the Air Force would have identified the need for SBSS in the 1990s (possibly earlier), gotten SBSS technologies—which were almost certainly quite mature—and funding into the DoD budget around the turn of the century in order to provide a 2004 contract award.  This timeline is an estimate, but is likely fairly close.

While no space launch can be considered green, the Air Force is recycling with the SBSS mission.  The spacecraft rode on the Minotaur IV, which is based on Peacekeeper rocket motors.  The SBSS effort is first orbital mission for the Minotaur IV, which has a currently planned manifest of eight missions over the next few years.

See this link for the OSC Press Release regarding the Minotaur IV.

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