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Space Situational Awareness is Space Battle Management

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Space Situational Awareness has long been synonymous with detecting, tracking, and identifying all artificial objects in Earth orbit otherwise known as catalog maintenance. Today, space is more congested and contested than ever before, and threats against U.S. capabilities grow every day. (Courtesy graphic)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- -- Space Situational Awareness has long been synonymous with detecting, tracking, and identifying all artificial objects in Earth orbit otherwise known as catalog maintenance. Today, space is more congested and contested than ever before, and threats against U.S. capabilities grow every day. While catalog maintenance is a part of the SSA mission set, SSA enables the continuous preparation of the battlespace in order to fight and win a war in space. Simply put, SSA is Space Battle Management. Like the air domain, there is a daily mission of air traffic control and a wartime mission of Air Battle Management. To ensure effective SSA, sensors need access to intelligence, flexible tasking, rapid decision making, and integration between platforms.

SSA sensors have long operated in a relatively static tasking construct, without detailed intelligence, to give operators understanding of why they are tasked against a particular object. With proper understanding of an adversary’s satellite characteristics and capabilities, operators achieve better mission planning to engage their weapon system in characterizing, recognizing, and responding to various space threats. Being engaged also motivates and inspires operators to come up with better solutions to tactical problems.

No one understands the weapons systems better than those who operate it daily. Sensors need flexible tasking that provides the operator with the freedom to decide how to best employ their weapons system. Tasking orders need to clearly state the desired effect or objective. For example, the objective may be that an area near a high value asset needs to be cleared. Clearing is when all objects in an area of space are determined to be known. With a complete understanding of the problem set, operators can be empowered to help solve it.

Integration and working relationships between different sensor platforms optimizes Space Battle Management. Different sensors may complement each other and hand-off important target data. Combining information from several sensors enables command and control centers to make better decisions. For example, if an uncorrelated target is found by a ground-based radar, Ground Based-Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance, GEODSS, could follow up on the targets and provide additional data. Hand-offs between electro-optical sensors, radars, and on orbit platforms can ensure high priority targets aren’t lost.

As the threats against US capabilities in the space domain continue to grow, Space Battle Management becomes much more than just catalog maintenance. It is the overall understanding of what is occurring in the domain. To ensure effective weaponeering of SSA sensors, operators need to be empowered to act through the incorporation of intelligence, flexible tasking, rapid decision making, and platform integration. Space is our ultimate high ground; we must keep watch.