Happy Anniversary: GEODSS Celebrates 35 Years

  • Published
  • By Maj. Robert Lerner, commander
  • 20th Space Control Squadron, Det. 3
2017 marks the 35th year since the 20th Space Control Squadron’s Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance system achieved initial operational capability. GEODSS has stood steadfast as a key contributor to our nation’s Space Situational Awareness.

In the 1970’s, the use of space-based technologies for military applications was blossoming, especially in orbits above 3,000 km. At the time, the Air Force lacked a robust and responsive capability to track and characterize objects in these orbits. Ground-based optical sensors were found to be the most cost-effective and timely solution. TRW Inc. was awarded the contract to develop what is now GEODSS.

GEODSS was originally deployed in 1982 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Maui Space Surveillance Complex in Hawaii, and Taegu in the Republic of Korea. GEODSS was deployed to Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory in 1986, increasing GEODSS to four detachments. Today, GEODSS consists of three detachment; the Taegu site was decommissioned in 1992 due to urban development and poor observing conditions.

GEODSS is not the same system today that it was at its inception. Today’s GEODSS telescopes have been re-built from the inside out, allowing the weapon system to be more effective and efficient than ever before. Life extension programs improved the performance of the telescopes. Multiple upgrades ensure current cyber security requirements are met and parts remain available. Together the GEODSS detachments provide thousands of nightly observations with an annual operating budget of just a few million dollars--a huge bang for the buck.

It’s not just the technology that has changed in the last 35 years, but the space domain itself. Space today is a congested and contested war-fighting domain. GEODSS may be 35 years old, but it is an essential war-fighting capability providing critical observations while coordinating with other sensors in the Space Surveillance Network.

With a global presence, the 20 SPCS provides persistent Space Situational Awareness capabilities. The three GEODSS sites, the radar located at Eglin Air Force Base, and soon the Space Fence ensure there is no safe time or place for an adversary to hide in space. With this range of capabilities, 20 SPCS provides space battle management ensuring our leaders have actionable, intelligence-driven information that can be used to respond to threats and ensure our continued access to and freedom of maneuver in the space domain.

Space Situational Awareness is essential to ensuring space superiority for our nation and our allies. GEODSS remains poised to provide another 35 years of premier Space Situational Awareness to make certain we are successful.