Space Delta 2 supports historic Odysseus lunar mission

  • Published
  • By SBD1 Public Affairs

Guardians from the U.S. Space Force’s Space Delta 2 – Space Domain Awareness and Space Battle Management played an integral role in ensuring the security of NASA and Intuitive Machine’s Odysseus lunar mission, titled IM-1, as it traversed through space Feb. 22, 2024.

Intuitive Machines made history last month when their robotic NOVA-C lander, named Odysseus, became the first privately developed spacecraft to touch down on the Moon and the first American spacecraft to do so in more than half a century. IM-1’s primary objective was to deliver five NASA payloads and commercial cargo to the Moon’s southern pole, a region that remains unexplored. Three DEL 2 units were pivotal in achieving this historic feat: SDA Partnership and Coalition Engagement Office, the 18th Space Defense Squadron, and the 19th Space Defense Squadron.

The SPACE Office served as the initial touchpoint between DEL 2 and the spacecraft owner-operator by conducting pre-launch engagement to ensure data flow connections were established on, U.S. Space Command’s public website for orbital data sharing.

“This process ensures that information, such as launch trajectories and planned maneuvers, are incorporated into DEL 2 mission planning,” said Rita Evaristo, SPACE Office spaceflight safety specialist. “Ultimately, this collaboration and cooperation between DEL 2 and owner-operators ensures spaceflight safety and avoids operational surprise.”

From there, 19 SDS worked with launch service provider data to deliver launch collision avoidance information, mapping the spacecraft’s path through space and identifying potential collisions.

“We take the information provided by the launch company and map out where the object will go in space,” said U.S. Space Force Maj Aaron Taft, Operations Officer for 19 SDS. “Our role is to identify and warn of launch times that may result in a potential collision. “

Following its launch from Cape Canaveral, the 18 SDS utilized the U.S. Space Surveillance Network to track and maintain custody of the spacecraft as it maneuvered through GEO. Upon crossing into cislunar space, or the area beyond GEO, 19 SDS operators used deep space surveillance radars and optical telescopes to maintain custody of the spacecraft as it made its way to the moon. 

With limited sensor capability and coverage in cislunar space, 19 SDS’s innovation cell is charged with developing cislunar surveillance to eliminate adversarial exploitation of this orbital terrain. Integrating non-traditional data sources from cislunar-minded entities, 19 SDS was able to track the IM-1 during its flight to the moon.

“IM-1 served as a great opportunity to refine our processes, procedures, and training as we continue to build out our capabilities of tracking objects in cislunar space,” said Taft. “Developing these capabilities and being able to keep eyes on this domain is imperative to our national security.”

DEL 2 leads the operational Space Domain Awareness mission on behalf of the United States Space Force and uses the Space Battle Management warfighting discipline to identify, characterize, and exploit opportunities and mitigate vulnerabilities in the national security space terrain. DEL 2 operates and supports 14 weapons systems, including coalition and Interagency systems in partnership with the Australian Defence Space Command and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.