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27 Mar 20. Launch of Space Force Largely Unaffected by Coronavirus, Top Space Officer Says. The Space Force launched in late December and, as it approaches its 100th day, its forward momentum is unabated by the coronavirus pandemic, the chief of space operations said.
“The men and women in U.S. Space Command and the U.S. Space Force are executing our 24/7, no-fail missions to protect and defend our nation’s space centers,” Space Force Gen. John W. Raymond, who also serves as commander of U.S. Space Command, said during a telephone news conference today at the Pentagon.
“Whether it’s operating in an increasingly competitive, congested or contested space domain hundreds of thousands of miles above us or continuing to provide space-enabling capabilities to the joint and allied force, mission partners and commercial sector, we’re safely and effectively conducting our missions,” he said.
An “advanced, extremely high frequency” military communications satellite launched into orbit for the Space Force yesterday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is the nation’s sixth such satellite.
Raymond said Spacecom has worked to provide additional communications bandwidth in response to requests from the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy as it heads to Los Angeles to handle trauma patients, freeing up civilian hospitals to handle more COVID-19 patients.
“We optimize the constellation or the payloads to be able to provide that support,” he said. “We’re doing that for every request that we may get.”
Raymond currently is the only member of the Space Force, but he said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman, his senior enlisted advisor, has been identified as the second person who will be sworn into the Space Force. That swearing-in will be delayed until a ceremony can be held to welcome him into the new service, the general said.
In May, 64 cadets enrolled at the Air Force Academy are expected to graduate and be direct-commissioned into the Space Force, Raymond said. Additionally, he said, the Space Force is “on track” with plans for transferring as many as 16,000 people attached to the Space Force from other services into the Space Force as permanent members.
The Space Force is “moving out at full speed” to make announcements on a variety of topics that will be of interest to future Space Force members and the entire Defense Department, the general said.
“We have our first flag, for example, and we’ll do a presentation on that flag,” he said. “We’ve got the naming of our space professionals — we did a crowdsourcing.” Officials received more than 700 responses to a call for suggestions, he added.
“We’re narrowing down that list, and I think you’ll be hearing an announcement on that in the very near future,” Raymond said.
Also, he said, some Air Force installations that have mostly space-related missions will be renamed. Some of those bases that will eventually be renamed are Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, and three bases in Colorado: Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson Air Force Base and Buckley Air Force Base.
“That requires a ceremony,” Raymond said. “We want to do that right. We want to do that safely, so we’ll schedule those when we can do that in an appropriate manner and keeping everybody that would attend that ceremony safe.”
When it comes to protecting Space Command personnel from coronavirus to ensure continuation of the mission, Raymond said appropriate guidelines are being followed.
“We have enhanced our disinfectant consistent with the national guidelines,” he said. “We have done the social distancing; we spread our crews out. We have monitored them before they come into the operations floor to make sure that they don’t have temperatures, for example. We have taken some pretty significant steps to make sure that those airmen that are absolutely critical to our nation are protected, that their families are protected, and that we can continue to provide those capabilities for a nation.”
The general also said that if members of critical mission crews contract COVID-19, there are “backup crews” segregated from other crews who could fill in.
“We have multiple layers of defense to protect the remaining crews,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
28 Mar 20. The final steps to fully-enable the ultra-secure, jam-resistant Military Code (M-Code) signal on the Global Positioning System (GPS) are now underway. As part of the U.S. military’s effort to modernize GPS, the U.S. Space Force has been steadily upgrading its existing GPS Ground Operational Control System (OCS). The Space Force recently announced Operational Acceptance of the GPS Contingency Operations (COps) upgrade, developed by Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT). COps enabled control of the operational GPS constellation, now containing 21 M-Code capable GPS satellites, including Lockheed Martin’s first two GPS III satellites, until the next generation OCX ground control system is delivered.
M-Code operational availability on track for 2020
The Space Force’s M-Code Early Use (MCEU) upgrade, delivered earlier this year, will enable the OCS to task, upload and monitor M-Code within the GPS constellation, as well as support testing and fielding of modernized user equipment, prior to the completion of the next-generation ground control systems.
This Spring, work will begin to install the components needed to command and monitor the M-Code encrypted GPS signal, which enhances anti-jamming and protection from spoofing, as well as increases secure access for our forces, into the GPS OCS. M-Code signals are currently available on all the on-orbit GPS IIR-M, IIF and III space vehicles.
A key to enabling M-Code is a new software-defined receiver Lockheed Martin developed and is installing at all six Space Force monitoring sites. The M-Code Monitor Station Technology Capability (M-MSTIC) uses a commercial, off-the-shelf general purpose Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) to cost effectively receive and monitor M-Code signals. Operators can monitor the signal as needed. M-MSTIC complements MSTIC’s, which Lockheed Martin developed and fielded to replace aging hardware receivers that were becoming difficult and expensive to maintain.
“Our warfighters depend on GPS signals every day for many critical missions, so anything we can do to make these signals more resistant to jamming and spoofing is extremely important – and available today,” said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin Vice President of Navigation Systems. “The more powerful GPS III/IIIF satellites coupled with Lockheed Martin’s upgrades to the GPS ground system are making that possible.”
Second GPS III satellite joins GPS Constellation
On March 27, the Space Force declared Operational Acceptance of Lockheed Martin’s second GPS III satellite. Another M-Code enabled satellite, GPS III Space Vehicle 02, “nicknamed Magellan,” is modernizing today’s GPS satellite constellation with new 3x greater accuracy and up to 8x improved anti-jamming capabilities. GPS III also provides a new L1C civil signal, compatible with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Europe’s Galileo.
Lockheed Martin is currently contracted to build up to 32 GPS III/GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites to help modernize the GPS constellation with new technology and advanced capabilities. The delivery tempo for these modernized GPS satellites will allow for several launches per year. The third M-code enabled GPS III satellite, named “Columbus,” is expected to launch in April, 2020.
Cyber security significantly hardened with Red Dragon Cyber Security Suite
Cyber defenses across the upgraded GPS system were recently evaluated by a government assessment team and passed the Operational Utility Evaluation. Lockheed Martin delivered the Red Dragon Cybersecurity Suite (RDCSS) Phase III upgrade during the fourth quarter of 2019, dramatically improving Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) visibility into GPS network traffic. Other add-ons include user behavior analytics to analyze patterns of traffic and network taps to improve data collections.
“GPS is an attractive target for our adversaries, so it was critical we bring our best cybersecurity defenses to the table,” said Stacy Kubicek, Vice President of Mission Solutions Defense and Security. “Since we began sustaining the Ground OCS in 2013, we have systematically upgraded and replaced software and hardware – it’s now a very secure system.”
Lockheed Martin has sustained the GPS Ground OCS since 2013. In November of 2018, the team completed the AEP 7.5 architectural change – replacing the hardware and software to improve resiliency and cybersecurity. In December of 2018, the Air Force awarded Lockheed martin the GPS Control Segment Sustainment II (GCS II) contract to further modernize and sustain the AEP OCS through 2025.
The GPS III team is led by the Production Corps, Medium Earth Orbit Division, at the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, at Los Angeles Air Force Base. The GPS OCS sustainment is managed by the Enterprise Corps, GPS Sustainment Division at Peterson Air Force Base. 2 SOPS, at Schriever Air Force Base, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.
27 Mar 20. Raytheon Gets OK, $378m To Replace Risky OCX Hardware.
“Raytheon has been executing as planned, giving us confidence in OCX’s ability to transition into operations,” Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC commander, said today.
Raytheon has been given a green light, and $378m, to replace computer hardware embedded in the next-generation Operational Control System (OCX) for GPS satellites considered at high risk of Chinese hacking, Space and Missile Systems Center announced today.
The hardware in question was provided by IBM, and based on the x86 chipset widely used in personal laptops and high-end workstations up to 2018. However, in 2014 IBM won approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to sell the product line to China. Under that sales agreement, IBM kept supporting rights until 2022.
SMC explains that while the USG at the time of the CFIUS approval noted that the sale would create an unacceptable cybersecurity risk to the OCX system, and thus the integrity of the critical Global Position System satellite network, but decided to wait until prime contractor Raytheon made headway in the long-troubled OCX program before implementing any solution.
Breaking D readers are well aware of OCX’s difficult past, including a Nunn-McCurdy breach in mid-2016 –– meaning that the program had exceeded its costs by more than 25 percent, and had to get reauthorized by Congress. But as I reported back in August, SMC has been happy with the progress Raytheon has been making.
“Over the last two and a half years, since OCX came out of its Nunn McCurdy breach, Raytheon has been executing as planned, giving us confidence in OCX’s ability to transition into operations,” Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC commander, said in a statement today. “Software development completed last fall and the program is in the integration and test phase. In less than a year, Raytheon will deliver a qualified software baseline capable of operating the GPS constellation.”
According to SMC, OCX will “deliver two-times more satellite capacity, modern cyber secure infrastructure, improved accuracy, globally deployed modernized receivers with anti-jam capabilities and improved availability in difficult terrain.”
Following a 2017 study of US vendors, HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) was chosen to replace the IBM chipsets and a pilot project — using 17 external monitoring stations and four ground antenna sites — was completed, SMC said.
“This gave us confidence that we had a viable OCX technical solution providing a long term sustainable hardware baseline that meets our stringent cyber security requirements,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Gabriele, SMC’s OCX materiel leader.
The decision now, he explained, will allow Raytheon to replace the hardware before the operational OCX system is delivered to prime contractor Lockheed Martin — now expected in 2021.
“As Raytheon continues to track to their contractual commitments, addressing the unsupportable IBM cyber security risk is prudent to do pre-system delivery to the government,” Gabriele said. “Although this government-directed change will impact the Raytheon schedule, the government is holding Raytheon accountable to deliver qualified software prior to integrating on the HPE platform and deploying to operational sites.”
“The U.S. Air Force’s decision to replace IBM hardware on the GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System protects the entire GPS enterprise and all its users,” Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business, told Breaking D in an email today. “GPS OCX has achieved the highest level of cybersecurity protections of any DoD space system, and we will maintain that industry-leading standard going forward.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
27 Mar 20. OneWeb collapses after SoftBank funding talks fall through. Start-up that wanted to beam broadband internet from space had raised $3bn from investors. OneWeb, the satellite internet start-up, is preparing for bankruptcy and to lay off most of its staff, after failing to secure new funding from investors including its biggest backer SoftBank, according to people familiar with the situation. The company could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US as soon as Friday, according to people involved in the preparations, putting most of its more than 500 employees at risk of losing their jobs. OneWeb had been in talks with Softbank to raise as much as $2bn in fresh funding before the coronavirus outbreak roiled financial markets, according to people familiar with the discussions. As markets plunged, OneWeb and SoftBank could not agree terms for a potential bridge loan to give the start-up time to secure new investors. One person close to the discussions said that those talks collapsed on Saturday, just hours before OneWeb launched more than 30 “micro satellites” from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to a constellation that it had originally envisaged would total around 640.
The aborted deal with SoftBank comes as the Japanese group is also threatening to pull out of a previously agreed $3bn purchase of stock in WeWork. OneWeb and SoftBank declined to comment. Using its low earth orbiting satellites, OneWeb aimed to beam affordable wireless broadband services to anywhere in the world, including remote regions, ships and planes. It had previously raised $3.4bn from investors including Airbus, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Qualcomm, Bharti Enterprises and Grupo Salinas, making it one of the highest-profile casualties of the coronavirus-induced market meltdown among private technology companies. With the hand of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son behind it, OneWeb was at the head of a pack of new satellite internet companies, alongside Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon’s Project Kuiper. More than $20bn has been poured into 435 start-up satellite companies since 2009, according to Space Angels, a venture capital company. When he first invested $1bn in OneWeb in December 2016, Mr Son made the deal a cornerstone of his pledge to newly elected US president Donald Trump to create tens of thousands of new American jobs. OneWeb built its satellites at a facility in Florida, using a mass-production process that promised to transform the economics of the industry.
But after Friday’s job losses, only a few dozen people will still be working at OneWeb to manage around 70 satellites already in orbit, thereby allowing it to keep its spectrum licence. However, the constellation is currently too small to offer telecoms services or generate revenues and the potential value of its radio spectrum to any acquirers is unclear. One person familiar with SoftBank’s thinking said OneWeb was originally destined to be folded into the group’s Vision Fund before Mr Son began to have doubts about the company. SoftBank, which is heavily indebted, has been battling to defend its own share price after a collapse in global stock markets triggered by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The FT revealed this week that Mr Son explored plans to take the group private before electing to sell $41bn in assets to boost a planned share buyback and to pay down some of its $55bn in net debt. It also faces pressure to recapitalise some of the start-ups held in its Vision Fund portfolio, which are scrambling to secure cash to continue operations. Its shares have climbed 44.5 per cent from a four-year low this week. (Source: FT.com)
24 Mar 20. Space on Budget. Reducing launch and spacecraft costs could enable more countries to affordably develop military communications satellites.
Space Costs & Spendings
Director Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction epic was publicised with the chilling warning that “in space, no one can hear you scream.” When it comes to satellites, a more fitting epithet might be that “in space, everyone can see you spend.”
Getting into the heavens and staying there is not cheap. At the upper end of the scale it can cost up to $30,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) to launch a satellite into a Geostationary Equatorial Orbit (GEO): A GEO orbit follows the Earth’s rotation, with a satellite typically being positioned 19,322 nautical miles/nm (35,786 kilometres/km) above the equator. This gives the illusion that the satellite is always in the same place, when in reality it is merely following the same east-to-west movement of the Earth.
The launch needs to be insured, which can be up to $22m. Insurance will also be needed while the spacecraft is in orbit with similar costs, while it may cost circa $1m per year to operate the satellite. Then there is the cost of the spacecraft itself. This can have a price tag upwards of $100m per satellite.
Assuming a lifespan of 15 years for a military communications satellite weighing 2,500kg (5,500llb), the accumulative costs would be upwards of $95m for the launch and launch insurance, $150m for the spacecraft, $20m for its in-orbit insurance and $15m in operating costs, making a grand total of $300m. As a means of comparison, this would cover the military aid that the US government has pledged to provide Ukraine in 2020.
Such eye-watering prices make it unsurprising that all but a limited number of nations can operate dedicated military communications satellites; notably Australia, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, the People’s Republic of China, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Lease SATCOM Bandwidth
Those nations unwilling or unable to make such investments can instead lease Satellite Communications (SATCOM) bandwidth from a host of firms. Several companies are in the business of providing such services. These can include wideband communications to handle voice and data traffic, which can be encrypted to provide communications security. ViaSat, Inmarsat, Iridium, Ligado Networks, Speedcast and Thuraya represent some of the businesses offering such services.
Going for the leased option undoubtedly offers savings, with prices starting at circa $1,500 per megahertz (MHz) of bandwidth per month. This helps to satisfy some of the demand but leased satellite bandwidth is a finite resource. For all intents and purposes, there is only so much to go around. Further complicating matters is the fact that the space-fairing nations mentioned above may also lease SATCOM bandwidth to supplement their sovereign SATCOM assets. This reflects a demand for military SATCOM which for many nations cannot satisfy alone by using nationally owned assets.
CENTCOM’s SATCOM bandwidth usage
A United Launch Alliance Delta- IV Medium+ rocket thunders aloft from Cape Canaveral airbase on 20 January 2012 carrying the fourth of the US DoD’s Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft. These will provide the US and allied militaries with wideband SATCOM communications.
An April 2018 article in the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) Purview journal which examines space and missile defence affairs entitled At What Cost? noted that forces deployed with US Central Command (CENTCOM) were using 4.54 megabits-per-second (mbps) of SATCOM bandwidth just prior to the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on 2 August 1990. CENTCOM’s area of responsibility includes the Middle East and Central Asia.
By the time Operation Desert Storm commenced on 17 January 1991 CENTCOM was using a total of 99mbps of SATCOM bandwidth; 67.65mbps of which was carried by military communications satellites with the balance of 31.39 carried by commercial spacecraft.
Twelve years later when the US and her allies were invading Iraq on 20 March 2003 to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power CENTCOM was consuming 3.2 gigabits-per-second (gbps) of SATCOM bandwidth. This was used by a force less than half the size of that which had helped to liberate Kuwait but represented a 32-fold increase in SATCOM consumption for data.
A Better Way?
Leasing bandwidth is a partial solution to the exorbitant costs of building and launching a satellite. Nonetheless this makes the nation leasing the bandwidth vulnerable. As mentioned above, bandwidth is a finite resource. It is restricted by the frequencies the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations body responsible for regulating the radio spectrum, makes available for SATCOM. A nation maybe able to lease some, but not all, of the bandwidth they need because of simple limitations on bandwidth availability.
Secondly, what does a nation’s armed forces’ do if the leased service becomes unavailable because the satellite, or part of its infrastructure, is damaged? Furthermore, if at war, leased services maybe switched off as a result of international sanctions. Ultimately, what does a country do if it needs military SATCOM, but cannot afford to purchase its own conventional capability and does not wish to rely on leased services?
Help maybe at hand from a number of innovations in the space technology domain potentially yielding important cost savings. These include innovations in launch technology and satellite design.
Let’s start with launching a satellite. Using conventional rockets is expensive. This has prompted a number of efforts to examine ways in which spacecraft can be sent aloft for less. Elon Musk, technology entrepreneur and chief executive officer of SpaceX has taken a disruptive approach to launching satellites.
Mr. Musk’s company has developed the Falcon family of medium- and heavy-lift launch vehicles. What sets these apart from traditional rockets is that the launch vehicles are reusable. Not having to build a new rocket every time one wishes to launch a satellite is an important step forward in reducing the cost of launches.
Reports have stated that the Falcon series can offer launch costs of under $6,000 per kilogram; a significant reduction from the circa $30,000 per kilogram charged for a conventional rocket launch.
The cost savings offered by SpaceX have piqued the interest of the US military. During the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) exhibition and symposium in Washington DC in October 2010, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell touted the potential of the company’s spacecraft as a means of delivering Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites into the cosmos on behalf of the US Army.
Shotwell told delegates that the company’s Starship reusable launch vehicle and super heavy rocket combination designed to carry passengers or cargo currently under development and expected to make its first flight in 2021 could be suitable.
Elsewhere, the DoD has already availed itself of SpaceX’ launch services via its Space Test Programme (STP) undertaking. The STP provides spaceflight services to the Pentagon and on 25 June 2019 the STP-2 initiative used one of the company’s Falcon Heavy reusable rockets to launch a sextet of Cosmic-2/Formosat-7 satellites which perform radio occultation; the measurement of the Earth’s atmosphere using radio frequency remote sensing. Also joining the ride were seven nanosatellites. While the payload of this launch lacked a distinct military feel it did demonstrate the feasibility of using SpaceX’ vehicles for launching future spacecraft.
Virgin’s Cosmic Girl
A different approach has been pioneered by Virgin Orbit, part of the Virgin Group of companies. The firm has tricked up a Boeing 747-400 airliner known as Cosmic Girl named after the 1996 acid jazz hit by Jamiroquai to launch satellites.
The jet will launch Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, which can carry a payload of 400kg (880lb). The rocket is deployed from a pylon situated beneath the port side wing which Boeing’s designers originally envisaged for ferrying non-operational engines.
Cosmic Girl performed her first launch drop test on 10 July 2019 over the Mojave Desert in California. Reports in late 2019 noted that the Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne could be making their first spacecraft launches in the early part of 2020.
Launching spacecraft from aircraft offers several advantages compared to using conventional rockets. Rockets gulp down huge amounts of fuel immediately after launch as they fight to escape the Earth’s gravity and dense atmosphere at low altitudes. Air-launch sees the aircraft taking on much of the initial burden that a rocket’s first stage would perform by getting the rocket to more rarefied atmosphere thereby reducing the fuel the rocket needs to get a satellite into space.
Unlike the first stages of conventional rockets launching aircraft can be used again. Reusability coupled with less fuel translates into launch cost savings for the satellite operator.
A launch aircraft is not tied to a specific location unlike a rocket which requires a launch pad, saving the cost of having to ship a satellite from its manufacturer to the launch pad. This mobility also allows the launching aircraft to fly to areas of good weather, thus freeing the rocket from being a hostage to the meteorology in the launch pad’s locate.
“LauncherOne can certainly help reduce launch costs for the military customer,” says Mandy Vaughn, president of VOX Space, Virgin Orbit’s subsidiary catering for national security and government customers. She continues that the firm’s launch services “provide an avenue to orbit for low cost experimentation of new space capabilities and prototypes.”
As far as the military customer is concerned, Vaughn says that the company’s philosophy is “about giving the government more flexible and responsive options for accessing space, which will reduce overall architecture and lifecycle costs.”
She is upbeat regarding the DOD’s interest to date in novel launch approaches as typified by the STP-2 initiative: “It’s through this sort of thinking that the U.S. government can change the overall launch calculus, leading us toward a space architecture that is more adaptive and resilient while still being cost-efficient.”
Beyond the US Vaughn highlights international interest in VOX Space’s launch services citing the company’s involvement with the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Team Artemis. This will see the company working closely on this small satellite demonstrator initiative announced by the air force in July 2019.
Smaller Satellite Designs
Currently launching aircraft are restricted by the weight of rocket that they can safely carry and deploy which could thus restrict the size of satellite sent aloft using this method: These weight restrictions may matter less in the future.
Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the defence and intelligence systems division of Hughes’ Network Systems division argues that smaller satellites may be able to pack much of the performance of conventional military communications satellites into a spacecraft a fraction of the size.
Anyone with a cellphone, a personal computer or a laptop will have noticed that electronics are getting smaller. The famous maxim of Moore’s Law, devised by the co-founder of the Intel Corporation, Gordon Moore, that the number of transistors which can adorn an individual chip doubles every 18 months, is making its presence felt in the satellite domain.
The miniaturisation of electronics is enabling the reduction in size of satellites, reducing weight which in turn reduces launch costs.
Small satellites weighing less that 500kg (1,000lb), microsatellites weighing under ten kilograms (22 pounds) and nanosatellites weighing between one kilogram (2.2lb) and ten kilograms all have the potential to be used for military communications.
Military SATCOM Providers
These designs are already being adopted by military SATCOM providers:
In August 2019 Viasat announced that it had contracted Blue Canyon to build a cubesat to carry Link-16 tactical data link communications. Cubesats are even lighter than nanosats typically weighing under 1.33kg (2.9lb).
Viasat has teamed with Blue Canyon to develop cubesats which can act as communication relays for the Link-16 tactical data link, winning a contract from the AFRL to this end.
Blue Canyon will build the bus for the planned twelve-strong fleet of experimental satellites as part of the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) XVI initiative.
The news followed a contract award by the AFRL to Viasat to demonstrate whether a Link-16 terminal could be hosted on a cudesat to serve as a communications relay.
Lober states that another benefit of lowering satellite production and launch costs is that new spacecraft can be built and sent into space comparatively more frequently than their larger conventional cousins. This helps customers benefit from innovation as soon as it is available, as opposed to having to wait several years until a new satellite can be designed, built and launched.
Not every nation will embrace lowering launch costs and cheaper spacecraft to commission constellations of communications satellites for their militaries at a reasonable cost.
Nevertheless, these innovations will go some way into ‘democratising’ the military SATCOM club. Nations which take this step may get significant ‘band for their buck’, through the ownership of satellites which can also be used for government, commercial and civilian applications with bandwidth reserved for the military as and when required.
However, while lowering prices could act as a powerful market driver, congestion in space may be a restraint. Nobody wants spacecraft to ‘run out of road’. The DOD is currently tracking 20,000 objects in orbit around the Earth.
BIS Research’s 2019 report entitled Global Small Satellite Market: Analysis and Forecast 2019-2030 predicted that the market for such spacecraft could be worth $2.9bn by 2030; a significant increase from the $513.6m it was worth in 2018. This will translate into a growing number of small satellites orbiting the Earth, and this growth will have to be managed in such a way that these satellites do not become a hazard to space navigation.
Assuming that rationality prevails, we could see a minor revolution in the uptake of sovereign-owned military SATCOM this decade, providing long-range, secure and capacious communications for more soldiers, sailors and aircrew than ever before. (Source: Armada)
24 Mar 20. SEAKR and Lockheed Martin to build prototype payload for PTS programme. SEAKR Engineering and Lockheed Martin are set to partner to design and build a prototype payload for the US Space Force’s Protected Tactical SATCOM (PTS) programme. PTS is a next-generation capability and connects troops with jam-resistant satellite communications (SATCOM).
The move comes after US Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base awarded a $240m contract to Lockheed Martin this month to develop a prototype payload. The complete system will provide protected communications for US and coalition forces in battlespace by deploying a constellation of dedicated geostationary satellites, commercially hosted payloads, and coalition partner satellites that are integrated through a ground control network.
Under the partnership, SEAKR will help Lockheed Martin achieve developments in PTS’ anti-jamming capabilities through collaboration on the system’s advanced space digital processor.
Leveraging its strength in RF communications, SEAKR will help demonstrate PTS anti-jam capabilities and requirements by building on advanced RF processing technologies employed in its Wolverine RF processing platform.
SEAKR’s processing systems will offer support to the complete spectrum of payload processing performance requirements. SEAKR and Lockheed Martin also collaborated on the first commercial protected communications payload on the Hellas Sat-4 / SaudiGeoSat-1 (HS-4/SGS-1) programme.
The government is seeking new collaborations between traditional defence and non-traditional / small business contractors for PTS.
Lockheed Martin has developed and built more than 300 payloads for various missions.
Last month, the company delivered a global positioning system (GPS) III satellite to the US Space Force ahead of an expected launch in April. The satellite was shipped on board a US Air Force C-17 aircraft travelling from Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
23 Mar 20. Bartington Instruments Partners with NewSpace Systems. As part of the partnership, the companies will develop a new generation of Attitude Determination and Control Subsystems (ADCS) for the space market. The partnership brings together a wealth of expertise from both companies. Bartington Instruments is a leader in the development and manufacture of Fluxgate magnetometers. NewSpace Systems has a longstanding reputation in the development and manufacture of high-reliability spacecraft products, supporting National Space Agencies and commercial constellations alike. (Source: naval-technology.com)
24 Mar 20. On March 23, the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center successfully transferred the second Global Positioning System III space vehicle (GPS III SV02) to Space Operations Command. GPS III SV02, dubbed “Magellan” in honor of Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who led the first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth, is now officially under the control of the Second Space Operations Squadron located at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
GPS III SV02 was launched on August 22, 2019 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. GPS III satellites deliver positioning, navigation and timing information with three times better accuracy, and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability than its predecessor. This is crucial for the warfighter, who will benefit from the increased power, accuracy and protections provided by the newer GPS III systems.
“This marks our second transfer of Satellite Control Authority for the GPS III program as we continue to modernize the GPS constellation with more capable and resilient systems.” said Col. Edward Byrne, chief of Production Corps’ Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division. “It’s only through the hard work, professionalism, and dedication of our entire government and industry partner team that we can successfully transition GPS III SV02 to operations.”
The GPS III spacecraft has a 15-year design life – 25 percent longer than the last generation of GPS satellites currently on-orbit. Additionally, it delivers new capabilities, such as a fourth civilian signal (L1C), designed to enable interoperability between GPS and international satellite navigation systems, such as Galileo. GPS III satellites will also bring the full capability of the Military Code (M-Code) signal, increasing anti-jam resiliency in support of the warfighter.
These continued improvements and advancements to the GPS system make it the premier space-based provider of positioning, navigation, and timing services for more than four billion users around the globe.
U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the U.S. Air Force’s Center of Excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch, range systems, satellite control networks, space-based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.
24 Mar 20. China Launches New Remote Sensing Satellites. China successfully sent a group of new remote sensing satellites into orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province on Tuesday.
Belonging to the Yaogan-30 family, this group of satellites was launched by a Long March-2C carrier rocket at 11:43 a.m. (Beijing Time). The satellites have entered the planned orbits. This satellite group will work as a constellation for electromagnetic environment detection and related technological tests. The satellites were developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. And the carrier rocket was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. Tuesday’s launch was the 329th mission of the Long March rocket series. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Xinhua)
21 Mar 20. The Pentagon wants to see new ground station prototypes. The Pentagon is asking industry to help build ground stations it needs for multidomain operations and for sending targeting data to military networks used to fire weapons. In a March 18 notice to industry, the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley outpost, the Defense Innovation Unit, said leaders there are interested in a prototype ground station that can quickly process sensor data from military satellites and improve battlefield awareness.
“The goal of the program is to reduce sensor to shooter latency via automated metadata correlation to provide time-dominant intelligence for delivery of desired effects (e.g. Long-Range Precision Fires),” the notice read.
The program would include a two-year competition. Industry would have to deliver two working mobile ground stations in January 2022 for use in a government exercise. Those ground stations would have to prove they offer a reduced latency direct downlink of data/imagery from commercial space sensors and military or intelligence satellites. Because the sensors will generate a flood of data, the prototypes would also need to rely on artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The DIU effort is working in parallel to the Army’s TITAN ground station program, which will process aerial and terrestrial sensors.
In October, Brig. Gen. Rob Collins, program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, said the Army has roughly 100 tactical ground stations, 13 operational ground stations and “a few” other dissemination vehicles.
Army leaders have said TITAN will allow for the conduct of deep targeting in a contested environment and enabling “cross-domain fires with [artificial intelligence-shortened kill-chains.” The system is supposed to be a primary tool for a new unit working with the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force known as I2CEWS, which stands for intelligence, information, cyber, electronic warfare and space. Responses are due April 3. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
22 Mar 20. OneWeb Successfully Launches 34 More Satellites Into Orbit in Second Launch of 2020. OneWeb declares today’s satellite launch a success. This launch continues path towards internet everywhere for everyone. OneWeb is proud to launch from Kazakhstan, extending Baikonur Cosmodrome’s world-class legacy to the space industry. OneWeb, the global communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone everywhere, announced today the successful launch of 34 more satellites, aboard a Soyuz launch vehicle from the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Lift-off occurred on March 21st at 17:06 UTC. OneWeb’s satellites separated from the rocket and were dispensed in nine batches with signal acquisition anticipated in the coming hours.
This is the second of its 34 satellite launches in six weeks, an achievement made possible by the pace and execution of OneWeb Satellites’ high-volume production factory in Florida. This launch brings the total number of satellites in the constellation to 74, further solidifying OneWeb’s position as a leading global communications company.
This third successful launch is another proof point of the rapid progress OneWeb has made over the past year. The company has now successfully deployed and tested satellites, installed ground stations globally, secured valuable spectrum and has a range of user terminals in development to meet customer needs. In the execution phase of its system deployment, OneWeb looks forward to bringing its services to markets including aviation and maritime, and working with carriers to provide services in rural and remote areas.
The current global health and economic crisis underscores the tremendous need and demand for connectivity, especially for rural and under-connected communities worldwide. From remote working, to online learning, to accessing healthcare information and medical advice, there is an overwhelming need to have more solutions available to connect people everywhere. OneWeb is making significant strides to deliver the connectivity that is currently lacking around the world.
Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, said: “We are very proud of the progress we have made so far in 2020 and I would like to show the utmost gratitude for the time, effort, and expertise of the OneWeb company, our partners and our people as we come together and support one another.
“In these unprecedented times following the global outbreak of COVID-19, people around the world find themselves trying to continue their lives and work online. We see the need for OneWeb, greater now more than ever before. High-quality connectivity is the lifeline to enabling people to work, continue their education, stay up to date on important healthcare information and stay meaningfully connected to one another. The crisis has demonstrated the imperative need for connectivity everywhere and has exposed urgent shortcomings in many organizations’ connectivity capabilities. Our satellite network is poised to fill in many of these critical gaps in the global communications infrastructure.” (Source: PR Newswire)
23 Mar 20. SpaceX completes sixth Starlink launch mission following launch abort. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has successfully completed the company’s sixth launch for the Starlink communications satellite constellation following a mission abort earlier in the month due to engine troubles with the Falcon 9 rocket. The successful launch comes following the abort triggered by one of the Falcon 9 rockets’ onboard computer triggered an abort alert following the detection of an issue with one of the rockets’ nine Merlin 1D engines, just before the lift-off.
SpaceX tweeted shortly after the launch abort, stating: “Standing down today; standard auto-abort triggered due to out of family data during engine power check. Will announce next launch date opportunity once confirmed on the Range.”
The abort was combined with an instantaneous launch window, meaning SpaceX engineers will have to work with their partner, the US Air Force, to conduct another launch attempt the following day.
Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported the Iridium-7 NEXT mission in July 2018, the SAOCOM 1A mission in October 2018, the Nusantara Satu mission in February 2019, and the second launch of Starlink in November 2019. Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported the first launch of Starlink in May 2019.
The Falcon 9 is equipped with safety features that can trigger an on-pad abort like the one on Monday, and can even abort during flight if it detects an anomaly.
SpaceX test-fires each of its rockets before launch. This allows the engineers to make sure the systems are functioning as expected. That routine test, called a static fire test, typically happens a couple of days prior to launch. By all indications, the rocket was ready to go and cleared for flight. However, that doesn’t mean that issues cannot creep up on the day of launch. Starlink is the name of a satellite network that the private spaceflight company SpaceX is developing to provide low-cost internet to remote locations. While SpaceX eventually hopes to have as many as 12,000 satellites in this so-called mega-constellation, the size and scale of the project have flustered astronomers and amateur skywatchers, who fear that the bright, orbiting objects will interfere with observations of the universe. (Source: Space Connect)
19 Mar 20. Direct Satellite Connectivity to Mobile Phones on Earth Accomplished by Lynk. The technical breakthrough enabled Lynk to send the world’s first ever text message from space to a mobile phone. This milestone, witnessed by independent third-party observers, represents the critical, industry-first next step for Lynk’s vision to use satellites to provide broadband services directly to more than five billion mobile phones on the planet, everywhere.
Lynk’s historic test took place on February 24, 2020, using the firm’s patented “cell tower in space” technology — LEO smallsats that connect directly to unmodified mobile phones. Lynk has successfully repeated the test multiple times with independent observers.
This milestone is the culmination of over a year of satellite-to-phone-on-the-ground testing involving multiple payloads in space.
Tyghe Speidel, Co-founder and VP of Technology of Lynk and the inventor of the core breakthrough technology, stated, that this is a critical verification of the company’s revolutionary radio access network technology’s ability to compensate for the effects of placing the cell tower in orbit, which mobile standards were not designed to accommodate.
This breakthrough represents a key step in advancing Lynk’s vision to provide universal broadband connectivity to the over five billion people who have mobile phones but cannot access wireless signals everywhere. Lynk has solved what was widely considered an impossible problem in a one trillion-dollar-a-year global industry — how to provide connectivity to mobile phones across the planet, when it is cost-prohibitive to build and operate cell towers everywhere, especially in less populated areas. Lynk’s technology solves this problem of providing mobile broadband coverage everywhere on Earth, a $300-400bn a year opportunity.
Charles Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of Lynk, noted that in collaboration with nearly 30 mobile network operator partners, Lynk is actively working to deploy the first commercial product. With the permission of regulators, Lynk is confident that the company can bring a world-first solution to the market to tens-of-millions of people by the end of 2020. This is a game changer for the billions of people who own a mobile phone, for the billions who do not have affordable connectivity, and for the entire mobile communications industry. Lynk makes the impossible possible. In the near future, you will stay connected everywhere — all the time.
The successful tests also prove that Lynk’s Everyone Everywhere Emergency alerts are feasible using Lynk’s orbiting satellites. The startup’s now proven technology will enable people everywhere to get potentially life-saving alerts — from the farthest parts of the ocean, to rural areas, and to the most remote islands — of impending natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, and tsunamis. Lynk’s breakthrough will provide emergency responders with assured mission-critical communications during natural disasters when traditional ground-based cellular networks are down.
Steve Case, the Co-Founder of AOL and Chairman and CEO of the DC-based investment firm Revolution (an investor in Lynk via Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund), added that connectivity changes lives and saves lives. Lynk’s successful test brings the company one step closer to providing the 2+ billion people around the world who live and work in rural communities with affordable connectivity and the immeasurable social and economic benefits that come with it.
Mark Foster, the inventor of cell phone number portability and a Founding Partner at Blazar Ventures, an investor in Lynk, added that the company is proud of Lynk’s revolutionary and industry-transformative accomplishment. Lynk will touch the lives of billions – by connecting directly to their standard mobile phones from satellites in orbit – and provide a desperately needed alternative to conventional terrestrial towers for mobile network operators to extend coverage everywhere. Lynk’s rapid prototyping and innovative space access strategies are a key part of their success, and Blazar Ventures looks forward to Lynk’s introduction of the world’s-first satellite-to-standard mobile phone service to tens-of-millions of people by the end of 2020.
Lynk has already launched its fourth “cell tower in space” spacecraft on the SpaceX’s CRS-20 mission on March 6th. This spacecraft, which is named Lynk The World, will allow the company to expand testing in the Summer of 2020 to additional countries and partners. (Source: Satnews)
18 Mar 20. Space Debris to be Tackled with Machine Learning. An Australian team is using machine learning to tackle the threat of space junk wrecking new satellites. Research to tackle the growing need to find, capture and remove junk from space is advancing at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning in Adelaide, South Australia.
Machine Learning for Space director Tat-Jun Chin and his Adelaide-based team have won a $600,000 grant from Australia’s SmartSat CRC to continue their work in detecting, tracking and cataloging space junk.
SmartSat CRC was established last year to work with the Australian Space Agency based in Adelaide, contributing to the Australian government’s goal of tripling the size of the space sector to $12bn and creating as many as 20,000 jobs by 2030. The space junk project is based on developing a space-based surveillance network and tackling the growing challenge of crowding in space.
Associate Professor Chin said his team was one of the first to apply an effective machine learning approach to the problem of estimating the pose of space objects from an input image so it can be removed. He said that inn order to remove a piece of debris from another spacecraft, such as by casting a net, harpooning or grabbing with a robotic arm, it is vital to estimate the position and orientation of the debris relative to the approaching spacecraft. The project involves University of Adelaide academics and researchers partnering with Inovor Technologies and a leading Australian space firm specializing in space situational awareness. It also includes scientists from the University of Queensland and the Australian National University.
Associate Professor Chin said the center was also waiting on the results of an application to partner with the giant European Space Agency (ESA) to find novel ways to approach and remove junk from space. He said the center, based in the city’s Lot Fourteen innovation neighborhood that also houses the Australian Space Agency, had capability in its lab to further the research more broadly with robotic manipulation.He hoped to work more closely with international agencies with the research, “for a fledgling space industry and a fledgling space economy, having that international connection is vital. Space presents novel problems for artificial intelligence, for example, a lot of AI algorithms require a lot of data.”
There are a growing number of satellites being launched into space with an exponential rise expected as private companies like American entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX one of several companies that intend to launch vast constellations of small satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Space junk is created by satellites continuing to orbit once they run out of fuel, run out of propulsion or their technology becomes obsolete and they are no longer required but remain in space.
Chin added that “If you have an autonomous car, relatively speaking, it’s not so hard to get that data, by capturing it from cars being driven. You can’t do that easily for a problem in space, as the cost of developing, launching and maintaining a satellite is much more significant. This presents fundamental challenges that motivate my team to look forward to work every day.”
South Australia has been a significant player in the nation’s space industry and is home to major Tier 1 defence companies, the SmartSat CRC and several emerging space start-ups, including Fleet Space Technologies, Inovor Technologies, Myriota and Southern Launch.
The Australian Space Agency officially opened its headquarters in Adelaide this year and will build a $6m Mission Control Center for smallsat missions and an educational Discovery Centre at their Lot Fourteen site. (Source: Satnews)
16 Mar 20. These Space Surveillance Satellites Just Got an Upgrade. The 1st Space Operations Squadron recently completed a major overhaul of the ground system for the U.S. military’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, which uses satellites to collect space situational awareness data about other objects on orbit.
“There have been a series of robust security upgrades,” said Capt. Bradley Frost, 1st SOPS satellite engineer. “There have been new hardware and bug fixes that have significantly increased the reliability of the system. To sum it up, it’s better, faster and more secure than ever before.”
The squadron first began working on a software overhaul for the GSSAP ground system in 2017. A trial period was completed in December 2019, and SOPS completed operational acceptance February 12.
“The more functions that reside on the ground, the more we can stay updated as technology increases and operational demands increase,” said Frost. “Surface level, it looks like a room of computers and server racks with fiber running every which way. But it is this set of hardware, and the software loaded onto it, that enables our operators to plan and execute daily tasks.
According to SOPS, this was one of the most significant upgrades to the system since it became operational in 2015. The ground system upgrade will also be important as the Space Force expands the constellation later this year, said 1st SOPS engineer Capt. Zachary Funke.
The first two satellites in the constellation launched in 2014, with two more satellites joining them on orbit in 2016. The Space Force is slated to launch the fifth and sixth GSSAP satellites in the fourth quarter of 2020 aboard an Atlas V rocket.
Operating near the geosynchronous belt, the four GSSAP satellites can provide data on other man-made objects in space without being interrupted by the weather or atmospheric conditions that impact ground-based space situational awareness systems. GSSAP satellites can also perform rendezvous and proximity operations, approaching other space vehicles to provide attribution or enhanced surveillance on objects of interest to United States Space Command.
Data collected through GSSAP is fed into the Space Surveillance Network, where it helps contribute to the military’s space domain awareness.
Northrop Grumman is the primary contractor for GSSAP. (Source: Satnews)
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