The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., hosted U.S. Senate staffers and military and academic officials for a 10th anniversary celebration of the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) satellite today.
The MSX spacecraft was launched on April 24, 1996, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, to gather vital data for the future design of space-based and ground-based missile defense systems. APL built the satellite for the Ballistic Defense Missile Organization (BMDO). It was the first system demonstration in space of technology to characterize ballistic missile signatures during the "midcourse" flight phase between booster burnout and missile reentry, and to collect data on the backgrounds against which targets are seen.
The Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) assumed ownership in October 2000, and MSX is currently the command's only space-based surveillance asset, providing full metric and space object identification coverage of the geosynchronous belt, regardless of weather, day/night or moon light limitations. MSX's continued operational success is the result of close coordination and partnership between several organizations: AFSPC manages the program; APL maintains and operates the satellite bus; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs operates the SBV Sensor.
"The development, launch and operation of the MSX reflects the operational prototyping and partnership approach now being promoted as the best way to field new systems and reduce risk in research and development," said Duane Deal, director of National Security Space Programs for APL. "The amazing thing is that this approach was followed more than 10 years ago, by team members still active in space development. Under the guidance of Air Force Space Command, the MSX team has continued to keep the satellite operations a vital part of the command's space situational awareness mission, while also significantly contributing to the advancement of science. Few teams and satellites can proudly point to making critical contributions to meet both national security and scientific needs."
Representatives from AFSPC, APL and MIT, as well as staff members from the office of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), were at APL to celebrate MSX's continued success. A delegation from the U.S. Strategic Command appeared via satellite.
"More than a celebration for a unique spacecraft, however, this is a tribute to those unique individuals who conceived, designed, built, launched, and those now operating this spacecraft," Deal said. "Now entering its second decade of service, the MSX keeps going and going and going— [it is] truly the Energizer Bunny of spacecraft."