To those of a certain age, CHiPS will always be the name of a popular television show of the late 1970s about two motorcycle cops working for the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Today, CHPS still represents a kind of patrol – but one whose range extends far beyond California. Where to? Hint … can Ponch fit in a space suit?
"Until now, the United States space mission extended 22,000 miles above Earth. That was then, this is now. The Air Force Research Laboratory is extending that range by 10 times and the operations area of the United States by 1,000 times, taking our reach to the far side of the Moon into cislunar space."
A video released this week by the Air Force Research Laboratory -- a scientific research organization operated by the United States Air Force Materiel Command dedicated to providing technological warfighting capabilities to United States air, space, and cyberspace forces – contained a small announcement with big consequences … the Wright Patterson Air Force Base lab will launch a satellite -- Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS) -- into cislunar space which includes the Moon. That gives CHPS a view of the “far side of the Moon” which is significant since that’s where China’s lunar rover is exploring and where that nation plans to build a Moon base.
“Effectively, this satellite is the beginning of an extension of operations by US Space Command from geostationary space to beyond the Moon.”
Space.com explains that the Air Force Research Laboratory will build the satellite, the US Space Force will operate it and train military personnel on its usage, and the US Space Command will oversee its usage in space. Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the nonprofit Secure World Foundation which works with government and agencies on the peaceful use of outer space, tells Ars Technica he thinks the purpose of the satellite is strictly observational … for now.
"It's the first step for them to be able to know what’s going on in cislunar space and then identify any potential threats to US activities."
The current US military focus is on the spot 22,000 miles (35,400 km) above Earth where the all-important geostationary satellites orbit. However, traffic between Earth and the Moon is increasing dramatically among many countries, so CHPS will be placed at 272,000 miles (438,000 km) from Earth. Of course, the video state that the intentions of the Space Force are good.
"The U.S. Space Force will ensure the peaceful development of space, keeping our missions safe and secure in these distant frontiers. The responsible use of space and unfettered access to space domain awareness ensures collision avoidance, on-orbit logistics, communication, navigation and maneuvering, all critical to the United States and allied space commerce, science and exploration."
Is the announcement of CHPS at this time related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intentional or just a coincidence? Good luck getting a straight answer on that one ... especially with Russia’s space agency leaders threatening problems in the ISS and cancelling projects with other agencies.
While keeping space peaceful seems like a noble cause, humanity hasn’t been able to accomplish that on Earth yet, so perhaps we should read between the lines – or the space objects – and see what this announcement really is … the first step towards putting Ponch, Joe, Bear and Hot Dog on space motorcycles patrolling the Moon and beyond.