Chris Sheffield, laboratory technician for the Air Force Institute of Technology Center for Space Research and Assurance, conducts testing on AFIT’s Space Object Self-Tracker. The SOS is a self-sufficient, low-cost, low-weight and low-power experimental payload designed to demonstrate precise tracking capabilities for future Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management. (Contributed photo)

Space Object Self-Tracker launch into low orbit deemed a success

On June 25, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Space Object Self-Tracker into low Earth orbit. The third of AFIT’s space systems to reach orbit, SOS was entirely designed, manufactured and tested by faculty, staff and students within AFIT’s Center for Space Research and Assurance.

SOS is a hosted instrument on NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission spacecraft.

“SOS reaching space is a significant achievement,” said Col. Timothy Albrecht, the CSRA director.

“At AFIT, we strive to make space research as realistic and hands-on as possible for our graduate students. SOS will continue to give our staff and students invaluable experience that is critical for understanding the challenges of working in space,” said Albrecht.

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An ongoing project since 2011, the SOS system was developed to create a self-sufficient, low-cost, low-weight and low-power precision tracking capability for future Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management. Instead of being an individual satellite, SOS is integrated on a small spacecraft, a system designed to demonstrate the practical capabilities of a high-performance green propellant alternative to legacy space propellants.

Although on-orbit, NASA and AFIT will not officially activate SOS until late September 2019, three months after launch. Once activated, SOS will calculate the orbital position of GPIM using GPS data and then “text” the position to users on the ground. The upcoming set of SOS experiments, all run by AFIT faculty, staff and students, demonstrate the concept of SOS-like devices affixed to future satellites to improve resident space object tracking efforts, reduce the number of potential satellite collisions, and overall aid in Space Traffic Management.

AFIT, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, is the Air Force’s graduate school of engineering and management as well as its institution for technical professional continuing education. AFIT is committed to providing defense-focused graduate and professional continuing education and research to sustain the technological supremacy of America’s air, space and cyber forces.

For additional information about the CSRA, or graduate degrees in space, engineering or management, visit the CSRA website at or call 937-255-6565, ext. 4753.

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