The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced Tuesday the formal transfer of its Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) system from the design and production stage to a new operational stage under the control of Air Force Space Command. SST’s new design features have “moved space situational awareness from seeing only a few large objects at a time through the equivalent of a drinking straw, to a ‘windshield’ view,” according to a DARPA statement. In 2015, the telescope observed 7.2 million objects in space, and DARPA expects it to observe as many as 10 million in 2016. SST has also “discovered 3,600 new asteroids and 69 near-Earth objects, including four that carry a risk of possibly hitting the Earth,” according to DARPA. The primary purpose of the telescope is to identify debris in space that could damage satellites or even impact Earth. In a conference call with reporters, DARPA program manager Lindsay Millard said the telescope cost around $150 million to build and upgrade. Despite its broad view of space, it would take three more such telescopes to achieve a view of the entire geosynchronous belt, according to Millard. SST has been undergoing testing at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., since 2013, when plans were finalized to move SST to the Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt in Exmouth in Western Australia. The telescope, which will be disassembled and shipped by boat, will be jointly operated by AFSPC and the Australian government, with initial operating capability expected sometime in 2020, Millard said.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.