GPS On the Lookout for Nuclear Detonations

The latest Global Positioning System satellite, which the Air Force successfully launched into orbit May 27, heralded “the beginning of a new era of space-based nuclear explosion monitoring,” according to the National Nuclear Security Administration. This capability comes in addition to the satellite’s bolstering precision navigation and timing services, of course. The Boeing-built GPS satellite, the first Block IIF model, carried with it “improved nuclear detonation detection instruments,” built by Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory, NNSA said in a release. “These new instruments will significantly improve our ability to detect atmospheric or space-based nuclear explosions and verify compliance with nuclear test ban treaties,” said Ken Baker, NNSA’s principal assistant deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation. GPS satellites have long carried such ancillary payloads, giving the US full global coverage for tell-tale signs of treaty violations. (See Schriever release for more on the GPS Block IIF satellite.)