The United States has established its first-ever space domain awareness (SDA) site in South America by installing an experimental telescope. The site is located at Cerro Moreno Air Force Base near Antofagasta, Chile, and was set up by a 12-member team comprising representatives from the US Space Force, U.S. Air Force, Chilean Air Force, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, and the US Air Force Academy.
The 14-inch Celestron telescope was installed alongside an all-sky camera called Panopticon and an Astrohaven dome between March 25 and April 1. The equipment will spend the next five months tracking satellites along the equator to collect data to determine where future SDA sites should be placed. The infrared all-sky camera will enable 24/7 satellite surveillance, monitoring the sky from horizon to horizon at 360 degrees day and night.
Establishing this site represents the first step in a long-term SDA partnership between the US and Chilean air and space forces, dubbed the Raven Risk Reduction Experiment. Chilean Air Force Maj. Gen. Luis Saez, director of the Space Directorate, hosted the team and expressed his enthusiasm for the project, stating, “It is a great achievement and hopefully the first of others in the SDA strategic partnership.”
The site’s strategic location will significantly expand the US Space Force and Chilean Air Force’s ability to track satellites in geosynchronous and low earth orbit over the Southern Hemisphere. It is the first in South America, demonstrating the strategic advantage to both nations through its satellite tracking mission.
The telescope and all-sky camera are on loan from the 15th Space Surveillance Squadron (SpSS) Tako Raven Program and the US Air Force Academy Falcon Telescope Program. The team plans to enter a survey period after the experiment, where future operational SDA sites in Chile will be evaluated as potential permanent sites for joint coalition SDA sites.
US Space Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Whitaker, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) director of space forces, emphasized the project’s importance, stating, “This project allows us to build our concept of operations with Chile so we can develop future permanent space domain awareness sites. It represents a good faith effort toward the future of SDA cooperation with Chile, strengthening our partnership.”
The Raven Risk Reduction Experiment will also be key in two summer international exercises – U.S. Southern Command’s joint exercise RESOLUTE SENTINEL and Colombian-led Angel de los Andes exercise. Doug Quets, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) technical advisor for intelligence, emphasized the significance of the project, stating that “activities like this in which we partner with foreign governments and can 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.”
The US Space Force Space System Command’s SDA program delivers cyber, ground-based, and space-based systems that swiftly detect, warn, characterize, attribute, and predict threats to commercial and national space systems. The program also provides national deterrence capabilities to resist those threats to prevail in space conflict.
Overall, the Raven Risk Reduction Experiment expands US’ and Chile’s capabilities. It is vital for hemispheric security and prosperity and their collective ability to counter complex crosscutting threats and implement integrated deterrence. Establishing this SDA site is a significant achievement in the U.S.-Chilean partnership, providing both countries with enhanced satellite tracking capabilities and improving global security.