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5th Space Surveillance Squadron [5th SPSS]

The 5th Space Surveillance Squadron, Royal Air Force Feltwell, United Kingdom, is responsible for detecting, tracking and identifying the status of satellites orbiting Earth. The unit is a geographically separated unit of the 21st Space Wing, Peterson AFB, CO, and is the only 21st SW unit operating both the DSTS and LASS systems from one location.

The 5th Space Surveillance Squadron detects, tracks and identifies deep space satellites using the Deep Space Tracking System (DSTS) and low altitude satellites using the Low Altitude Space Surveillance (LASS) system. Both the DSTS and LASS systems are passive surveillance units. Other DSTS antennas are operated by the 3rd SPSS, Misawa AB, Japan. Deep space objects are those with orbits that take more than 225 minutes to rotate the earth. Satellites are categorized as low altitude if their orbit is generally less than 225 minutes.

The site passively tracks satellites by collecting radio frequency emissions from the satellites. They transmit that information to the 2nd CACS, Schriever AFB, CO. The 2nd CACS then passes this information on to the space surveillance center at Cheyenne Mountain AS, CO. The center uses this data, along with data from other sensors, to maintain a catalog of man-made objects in space.

These passive surveillance systems are the newest generation of space tracking capabilities and continue a series of developments that began with the realization, after the first Sputnik launch in 1957, that the United States had little ability to track space objects. The first space surveillance sensors were radars and telescopes. DSTS and LASS augment and complement the radar and telescope's capabilities, providing a further dimension to space surveillance technologies.

The 21st Space Wing's tracking of all orbiting man-made objects allows the United States and other nations to safely launch space vehicles, avoid collisions in orbit, and remain aware of international space activity.

The 5th SPSS is tasked with:

  • Locating, tracking and identifying deep space and low altitude satellites in support of the commander in chief, U.S. Space Command's missions of space control and force enhancement;
  • Passing that information to the 2nd Command and Control Squadron, Schriever AFB, CO;
  • Supporting other Department of Defense and government users of satellite data; and
  • Operating and maintaining two passive space surveillance systems called the Deep Space Tracking System and Low Altitude Space Surveillance System.

The squadron was originally activated as Detachment 2, 73rd Space Surveillance Group in February 1989. The Air Force redesignated it as the 5th SPSS in October 1989. The site reached operational acceptance in September 1993. When the 73rd Space Group inactivated in April 1995, the squadron fell under the 21st Operations Group of the 21st Space Wing as a geographically separated unit.

With the closure of the 17th Space Surveillance Squadron at RAF Edzell, Scotland, in October 1996, the 5th SPSS incorporated the LASS mission, becoming the only 21st SW squadron which conducts these two missions from one operations center.




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