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Space Force launching first-of-its-kind spy satellite group to track Chinese, Russian threats

Artist's concept showing the two observatories opening their solar panels. (NASA/Released)
June 07, 2023

The US Space Force is preparing to launch a group of satellites that will monitor Chinese and Russia space activity as the superpowers’ tensions go extra-terrestrial.

The constellation of satellites – called “Silent Barker” – is the first of its kind, the Space Force and analysts said, according to Bloomberg. The satellites will orbit roughly 22,000 miles above Earth.

The Space Force, along with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), is developing the satellites with the ability to enable “indications and warnings of threats” against U.S. systems and will “provide capabilities to search, detect, and track objects from space for timely threat detection.”

The Silent Barker will likely launch this summer on an Atlas V booster operated by the Boeing Co.-Lockheed Martin Corp.’s United Launch Alliance. The exact date for the historic launch will be announced one month in advance on social media, Bloomberg reported.

Sarah Mineiro, former top staffer on the House Armed Services Committee strategic subcommittee overseeing space programs, said the new satellite group “will dramatically increase Space Force’s ability to track on-orbit, adversary satellites that could be maneuvering around or in proximity to our satellites.”

It is unclear how many satellites will make up the Silent Barker system, but the Space Force and NRO said “multiple space vehicles” will be involved.

The Space Force said the ability to conduct surveillance from space with Silent Barker is a gamechanger that supports ground sensors and “overcomes ground sensor limitations by providing timely 24-hour above-the-weather collection of satellite data.”

Current ground sensors “are limited by distance, geography, and weather” but “Silent Barker will overcome observation gaps,” the service added.

The plans come after at least 50 U.S. senators were issued satellite phones to use during emergency situations, according to people familiar with the situation, CBS News reported.

The phones were distributed as part of a number of new security efforts from the Senate Sergeant at Arms and were offered to every senator. It is unclear which senators agreed to the take part in the new measure.