Space Situational Awareness

Freedom to maneuver in space is critical to meeting the United States Air Force’s mission to fly, fight, and win in air, space and cyberspace. The ability to exploit the characteristics of space gives the warfighter a competitive edge in virtually all engagements.

AFRL operates two major telescope sites that are used to advance Space Situational Awareness (SSA) technologies. The Starfire Optical Range (SOR) is located on Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and the Air Force Maui Optical and Super Computing (AMOS) site is located in Maui, Hawaii.

The AMOS site houses the military’s largest ground-based electro-optical telescope, the Advanced Electro-Optical System 3.6-meter telescope. The laser from the AEOS creates an artificial guide star 60 miles above the surface of the earth that when used with adaptive optics on the telescope reduces the blurring effects of atmospheric turbulence, providing a clearer view of objects in space.

The SOR operates one of the world’s premier adaptive-optics telescopes capable of tracking low-earth orbiting satellites. Using adaptive optics, this 3.5-meter telescope distinguishes basketball-sized objects at a distance of 1,000 miles into space. At the SOR researchers develop optical sensing, imaging, and atmospheric compensation technologies to support the Air Force aerospace missions and space situational awareness.

Together AFRL’s telescope sites provide the nation with:

  • 24/7 space situational awareness
  • Tracking and imaging of space objects from ground-based telescopes
  • Laser-based adaptive optic technologies to compensate for atmospheric distortions