WASHINGTON – With arrows stretching almost the length of a football field, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Science Experiment and Demonstration spacecraft (DSX) is the largest freestanding satellite ever placed in orbit. Last month, almost two years after its launch and a year after the planned end of its mission, AFRL officially decommissioned the satellite.
Although DSX was launched in June 2019, work on the experiment actually started in 2003. AFRL wanted to research the severe radiation environment of medium Earth orbit (MEO), defined as space. massive between 1,243 miles and 22,236 miles above sea level. The radiation emitted by the Van Allen belts in MEO is particularly difficult and can damage the satellites. The lab wanted to develop a purely scientific experimental satellite to collect data on this radiation, helping the Defense Ministry understand and predict it and develop a sustainable spacecraft capable of supporting it. These plans ultimately resulted in DSX.
Equipped with a suite of technologies, sensors and antenna poles, DSX would use very low frequency radio waves to study severe radiation in MEO. With a deployable boom measuring 80 meters and a second measuring 16 meters, DSX was one of the largest deployable structures built to operate in orbit. After years of work, the satellite was finally launched in June 2019 for a one-year mission. However, AFRL ended up keeping the satellite in operation for almost two years, using it to conduct more than 1,300 experiments.
Finally, AFRL completed DSX end-of-life processes on May 31.
“When I think of DSX, several things come to mind,” AFRL director of space vehicles Col. Eric Felt said in a June 7 statement. âFirst, there is the abundance of scientific data collected that our nation and our allies will be evaluating for years to come – DSX has been the epitome of a science mission. Second, the perseverance of this team has been incredible – the lab kept for 18 years, seeing the spacecraft from birth to death with many difficulties along the way – the long-haul commitment has paid off.
Even if the satellite is no longer functioning, its legacy will continue, with scientists continuing to work on the data it collected in orbit.
âWe will be working on the science of this mission for the rest of our careers,â said William Johnston, DSX principal investigator. âDSX’s contributions to understanding the space environment are profound for our nation and the DoD. “
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.