A new space situational awareness satellite will hitch a ride into orbit alongside the United States Space Force’s latest anti-jamming communication satellite later this month when the service conducts its first launch since being established in December.
Sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory and manufactured by the Georgia Institute of Technology, TDO-2 is a multi-manifest small satellite vehicle carrying multiple government payloads that will help provide space domain awareness for the Space Force. The satellite will carry multiple government payloads and will be able to gather range data on other objects in space using lasers as well as provide optical calibration capabilities.
TDO-2 will share a ride into orbit on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the sixth and final Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite. The AEHF constellation replaces the legacy Milstar constellation to provide protected satellite communications for high-priority US military assets and international partners. A single AEHF satellite provides three times the capacity of the entire Milstar constellation, while the complete AEHF constellation will provide 10 times the throughput.
AEHF-6 is the anchor satellite for the mission, with the TDO-2 payload integrated into the aft-end of the Centaur upper stage. TDO-2 will deploy first, 31 minutes after launch. This is only the second time this type of event has occurred on a National Security Space Launch mission, the first instance taking place when a hosted payload was deployed ahead of AEHF-5 last year.
TDO-2 will be used to demonstrate a swap out capability late in the integration process, allowing the Space Force to substitute a payload into a launch as late as one month before the launch date. The Space Force said in a statement this gives them increased flexibility in putting national security payloads on orbit.
The Space and Missile Systems Center delivered the fully tested and integrated TDO-2 to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station March 6 to be integrated into the AEHF-6 mission ahead of a March 19 launch date.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.