spaceconnect logo

US drops term space situational awareness

Max Blenkin
US drops term space situational awareness

No longer is the process of keeping track of other satellites and space junk to be known as space situational awareness (SSA).

That familiar and longstanding acronym is no more. This is now called space domain awareness (SDA), according to a memo from the US Air Force Space Command.

How long before SDA becomes common usage in Australia? Probably not long at all.

In the memo, USAF Space Command deputy commander Major General John Shaw explained the change as in line with the changing US view that space is now a domain of warfare, like land, sea and air.


“The implication of space as a warfighting domain demands we shift our focus beyond the space situational awareness mindset of a benign environment to achieve a more effective and comprehensive SDA, much the way the Navy works to achieve maritime domain awareness in support of naval operations and the Air Force strives for maximum air domain awareness to achieve air superiority,” Maj Gen Shaw stated in the memo.

SpaceNews said the memo directs all space organisations in the USAF to adopt the term SDA effective immediately.

“AFSPC personnel will adopt the concept and definition of SDA to replace SSA moving forward, use the term SDA in all future documents and infuse SDA into doctrine,” the memo said.

This defines SDA as the identification, characterisation and understanding of any factor, passive or active, associated with the space domain that could affect space operations and thereby impact the security, safety, economy or environment of the nation.


SDA requires the integration of legacy SSA-based metric observations and intelligence needed to identify, locate and track potential threats to on-orbit space systems, the memo said.

SDA must be predictive and current, requiring the integration of intelligence, metric observations and environmental monitoring to execute space battle management in support of military plans and operations.

SSA and space debris expert Roger Thompson, a senior engineer at The Aerospace Corp, told SpaceNews the leaders of Air Force Space Command had been discussing the change in terminology for some time.

They decided that SDA was a better term to “get people thinking more of space as a domain”.

Space and defence contractors who work with the Air Force on related activities will need to be aware of this change, he said.

Hence the high likelihood that Australia will speedily follow the US in dropping SSA and moving to SDA.

Receive the latest developments and updates on Australia’s space industry direct to your inbox. Subscribe today to Space Connect here.

Receive the latest developments and updates on Australia’s space industry direct to your inbox. Subscribe today to Space Connect.