The Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System, or GEODSS, plays a vital role in tracking deep space objects. More than 2,500 objects, including geostationary communication satellites, are in deep space orbits varying in altitude from 10,000 to 45,000 kilometers from Earth.
Approximately 23,000 known man-made objects orbit the Earth. These objects range from active payloads, such as weather satellites or Global Positioning System satellites, to "space junk" such as rocket bodies or debris from past satellite breakups.
The 21st Space Wing’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18 SPCS), located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is responsible for tracking all man-made objects in orbit. The 18 SPCS receives on-orbit positional data, known as metric observations, from the Space Surveillance Network which comprises optical and radar sensors throughout the world. This enables the 18 SPCS to maintain accurate data on every man-made object currently in orbit.
There are three operational GEODSS sites that report directly to 20th Space Control Squadron at Eglin AFB, FL under the21st Operations Group, 21st Space Wing at Peterson AFB, Colo. They are: Detachment 1, Socorro, N.M.; Detachment 2, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory; and Detachment 3, Maui, Hawaii.
GEODSS performs its mission using one-meter telescopes that are equipped with a highly sensitive digital camera technology, developed under a program known as Deep STARE. Each operational GEODSS site has three telescopes that are used in conjunction with each other or separately. These telescopes are able to "see" objects 10,000 times dimmer than the human eye can detect. As with any ground-based optical system, cloud cover, local weather and lighting conditions directly influence its effectiveness.
The Deep STARE camera system is able to track multiple satellites in the field of view. The telescopes take rapid electronic snapshots of satellites in the night sky, showing up on the operator's console as tiny streaks. Computers then measure these streaks and use the data to compute the position of satellites in their orbits. Star images, which remain fixed, are used as reference or calibration points for each of the three telescopes. The resulting metric observation data is then sent instantaneously to the 18 SPCS.
The GEODSS system has been an important piece of U.S. Strategic Command's space situational awareness mission since the early 1980s. Over the years, they have undergone several refurbishments and upgrades, the most significant being the addition of Deep STARE cameras. In 2005, each site began using the Deep STARE cameras. This upgrade provided the sites with some of the most accurate and sensitive optical telescopes in the world. The GEODSS system can track objects as small as a basketball more than 20,000 miles away and is a vital part of the AFSPC's space surveillance network.
(Current as of December 2016)