The United States’ first-ever space domain awareness (SDA) site in South America is now operational thanks to an experimental telescope. A joint coalition team installed the 14-inch Celestron telescope, Panopticon all-sky camera, and Astrohaven dome between March 25 and April 1 on Cerro Moreno Air Force Base near Antofogasta, Chile. Broadly, SDA is the study and monitoring of satellites orbiting the Earth.
This telescope is the first step in a long-term SDA partnership between U.S. and Chilean air and space forces. Dubbed the Raven Risk Reduction Experiment, the equipment will spend the next five months tracking satellites along the equator, allowing the partner nations to collect data that will determine where future SDA sites should be placed. The infrared all-sky camera, a modified visible light weather camera, enables 24/7 satellite surveillance, monitoring the sky from horizon to horizon in 360 degrees both day and night.
Chilean Air Force Major General Luis Saez, director of the Space Directorate, hosted the 12-member team with representatives from U. S. Space Force, U. S. Air Force, Chilean Air Force, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, and U.S. Air Force Academy.
“It is a great achievement, and hopefully the first of others in the SDA strategic partnership,” Maj. Gen. Saez said.
The site is the first of its kind in South America, and its strategic location greatly expands the U.S. Space Force and Chilean Air Force’s ability to track satellites in geosynchronous earth orbit and low earth orbit over the Southern Hemisphere.
The telescope demonstrates the strategic advantage to both nations through its satellite tracking mission and will also play a key role in two international exercises this summer — U. S. Southern Command’s joint exercise RESOLUTE SENTINEL and Colombian-led exercise Angel de los Andes, said U.S. Space Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Whitaker, U.S. Air Forces Southern/12th Air Force (AFSOUTH) director of space forces.
After the experiment period, the team plans to enter a survey period, where future operational SDA sites in Chile will be evaluated as potential permanent sites for joint coalition SDA sites, Lt. Col. Whitaker said.
“This project allows us to build our concept of operations with Chile so we can develop future permanent space domain awareness sites,” Lt. Col. Whitaker said. “It represents a good faith effort toward the future of SDA cooperation with Chile, strengthening our partnership.”
Doug Quets, AFSOUTH technical advisor for intelligence, emphasized the significance of the project. Because the U.S. has historically focused less on the Southern Hemisphere, this experiment provides a cost-effective opportunity to take a moderate risk and field test capabilities for the future.
“We don’t have much SDA coverage below the equator, so activities like this in which we partner with foreign governments and are able to share information allows us to provide a better picture of what’s occurring across the globe that can’t be monitored from the United States,” Quets said. “It provides security for them, and it provides security for us.”
Quets said strong partnerships like the one between the U. S. and Chile are critical. He highlighted that the U.S. and Chilean teams worked together to deploy the telescope, resulting in transparent information sharing between the nations. “The beauty of this [experiment] is that we’re able to do something at the tactical and operational level and we have a strategic effect with partner nations across the globe, delivering security from this site.”
The U.S. Space Force Space System Command’s SDA program delivers cyber, ground- and space-based systems that rapidly detect, warn, characterize, attribute, and predict threats to national, allied and commercial space systems, while also providing national security deterrence capabilities countering those threats to prevail in space conflict.
Partnerships such as the Raven Risk Reduction Experiment expand both nations’ capabilities and are vital to hemispheric security and prosperity, the collective ability to meet complex crosscutting threats, and implementing integrated deterrence.