Photos courtesy of Airman Magazine
Every day for the past 36 years, Bob Bruck has been driving up the switchbacks of a dormant volcano on the island of Maui to get to work. Rising 10,000 feet above sea level, Haleakala was chosen by the Air Force in 1979 to be the home of a Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep-Space Surveillance (GEODSS) unit. Haleakala, meaning “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, is the third tallest volcano in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is also third on the list of best optical locations on the planet, trailing only Mauna Kea and Atacama, Chile, for the site with the clearest sky. These attributes make it a perfect spot to collect on-orbit positional data, which helps us preserve an operational advantage in space.
Bruck, operations manager for BAE Systems, oversees a team that performs space surveillance, operations, and maintenance for the newly created U.S. Space Force, which inherited the program and site operations atop Haleakala.
“As space becomes more and more congested, it’s critical that we keep track of man-made satellites in orbit,” said Bruck. “Haleakala on Maui is a unique location, isolated thousands of miles within the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a volcanic peak and nearly two miles in elevation. There is less light pollution, more clarity, less humidity, and unique atmospheric conditions that make it an ideal place for astrophysical research. The night sky is absolutely remarkable up here; even after three decades, it still leaves me in awe.”
According to NASA, there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris, or “space junk,” orbiting the Earth at speeds of up to 28,163 kilometers per hour. And, there are more than 2,500 important objects, including geostationary communication satellites, in deep space orbits anywhere from 10,000 to 45,000 kilometers from Earth. Since space assets play a role in protecting our national security, they need to be monitored so that they don’t run off course or get compromised by space junk.
“As space is now a contested domain warfare, like air, sea or land, we are strategically positioned to support the Space Force in its space domain awareness,” said Pete Trainer, vice president and general manager of BAE Systems Air Force Solutions. “Our work in delivering high fidelity observations supports our customer to execute space battle management.”
BAE Systems provides 24/7/365 operations and maintenance support for the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System for the 20th Space Control Squadron. GEODSS is part of the Space Force’s space surveillance network, consisting of optical telescopes situated in three different locations: Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory; Maui, Hawaii; and Socorro, New Mexico. Each of the three sites is equipped with three independently operating telescopes. GEODSS data is channeled to a command and control node responsible for the Space Force’s Space Domain Awareness (SDA) mission.
“GEODSS plays a vital role in tracking deep space objects,” said Bruck. “It can track objects as small as a basketball more than 20,000 miles away. The telescopes detect objects 10,000 times dimmer than the human eye can detect, and it is one of the most accurate and sensitive optical telescope systems in the world for the type of work that it does.”
The BAE Systems team studies orbital mechanics, tracking theory, and technologies. The team’s operation and maintenance of national assets enables the customer to maintain accurate data on man-made objects currently in orbit.
“With GEODSS, we monitor satellite activity, position, and orbital characteristics, supporting SDA mission priorities,” continues Bruck. “Our team works shifts, some working overnight collecting, prioritizing and then analyzing data points, which are sent to the customer to provide situational awareness and help inform decisions.”
The complex atop Haleakala not only has U.S. Space Force operations, but also includes research centers operated by the University of Hawaii, Smithsonian Institution, Federal Aviation Administration, and others.
If you’re looking for a rewarding career supporting the Space Force, please check out jobs.baesystems.com and search space to learn more.
Photos courtesy of Airman Magazine