Jeffrey LewisMiTEx Sats Inspect DSP-23

I am recovering after bringing home an Italian bug of some sort: Grazie mille, Italia.

For some reason, the topic of autonomous proximity operations keeps coming up (See my previous post on the BX-1 panic.) The Air Force is going to use 2 MiTEx satellites to inspect DSP-23, which crapped out this spring:

In a top secret operation, the U.S. Defense Dept. is conducting the first deep space inspection of a crippled U.S. military spacecraft. To do this, it is using sensors on two covert inspection satellites that have been prowling geosynchronous orbit for nearly three years.

The failed satellite being examined is the $400 million U.S. Air Force/Northrop Grumman Defense Support Program DSP 23 missile warning satellite. It died in 2008 after being launched successfully from Cape Canaveral in November 2007 on the first operational Delta 4-Heavy booster.

Since the U.S. is now demonstrating the ability to do such up close rendezvous and inspection of American spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit, it means USAF now has at least a “call up capability” to do the same to non-U.S. spacecraft like those from Russia and China.

Ryan Caron, then-a research assistant for the space security project at the World Security Institute’s Center for Defense Information, had a nice article on MiTEx in the Space Review.

Update: I neglected to mention Brian Weeden’s excellent article, The ongoing saga of DSP Flight 23. His summary is, in my view, exactly right:

If the United States truly wishes to provide evidence in support its position that it is the model for a peaceful, responsible actor in space, then it should publish the position of DSP-23 and provide all future updates, just like any other piece of space debris in the catalog. A non-responsive satellite which is instead drifting uncontrollably in the GEO belt has little military utility, and there is no longer any meaningful reason to continue to classify its position. The United States should also publish the positions of the MiTEx satellites to show that they are indeed only being used for their stated peaceful purposes. Attempting to hide their locations only encourages speculation and allows other States to claim they are indeed weapons to suit their own geopolitical purposes.

If future inspection satellites are orbited by the US military, the United States should consider making their services available to other States and space actors. The United States could even charge for those services as part of its planned Commercial and Foreign Entities (CFE) Phase 3, which plans to offer services such as analysis of space surveillance data products. Certainly there could be no harm to national security if these satellites are indeed conducting a legitimate, peaceful mission. Additionally, allowing other states to utilize such satellites could remove the imperative to develop and launch their own inspection satellites, thus minimizing the proliferation of the capability, which would certainly be to the best interests of the US military.


  1. Davide Grandi (History)

    > I am recovering after bringing home an Italian bug of some sort: Grazie mille, Italia.

    Prego, non c‘è di che.
    (tr. : not at all).

    Intriguing article.