Recently relocated to Australia, the Space Surveillance Telescope has achieved first light, a significant milestone in its journey to reentering operations in 2022.

Achieving first light means that the telescope optics have been successfully aligned with the wide-field-of-view camera in order to produce images of objects on orbit. Developed in partnership with the Australian Department of Defence, the Space Surveillance Telescope will provide advanced electro-optical coverage of objects in geosynchronous orbit.

“Whether it is space traffic management or the protection and defense of critical space-based capabilities, delivering sensors that continuously improve our ability to maintain real-time awareness of the space domain is essential to facilitate the broader needs of both the U.S. and Australia,” said Lani Smith, the deputy director of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Special Programs Directorate.

“The SST program, which is a jointly operated program, represents delivery of our next iteration of sensing capability to meet this need,” Smith added.

The telescope initially achieved first light in 2011 while located at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. But in 2013, the United States and Australia agreed to relocate the telescope to the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station in Western Australia.

There, the sensor can provide greater electro-optical coverage of objects in geosynchronous orbit for the U.S. Space Force. The telescope was moved to Australia in 2017, and it achieved first light at its new location on March 5.

The Space Surveillance Telescope is expected to become operational in 2022, when it will begin feeding data into the Space Force’s Space Surveillance Network, which collects data from numerous sensors to provide accurate space situational awareness to the United States, Australia and other allies. The telescope will be operated by the Royal Australian Air Force, with the Space Force providing oversight and management.

“This key Space Domain Awareness, or SDA, partnership builds on the long history of close defense space cooperation between the United States and Australia and has been a cornerstone of our continued alliance,” said Gordon Kordyak, SMC Special Programs Directorate Space Domain Awareness Division chief.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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