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22 Jul 21. Space Force delivers software upgrades to satellite communications system. The U.S. Space Force successfully delivered the fourth of five planned software updates to its protected satellite communications system, enabling international partners to access new features.
The Advanced Extremely High Frequency system provides a survivable, protected, anti-jam signal for high-priority military communications. As the successor to MILSTAR, the constellation is designed to enable high-level military leaders such as the president, the National Security Council and unified combatant commanders to control strategic and tactical forces, even in the midst of a nuclear war. The sixth and final AEHF satellite was launched in March 2020. Four international partners — Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia — also use AEHF.
After achieving initial operational capability in 2015, the program’s Mission Planning Element contracted with Lockheed Martin Space to develop five software capability insertion increments to provide the additional bandwidth and system efficiencies for the growing number of users. The first three increments were operationally accepted in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively.
In a July 21 statement, the Space and Missile Systems Center announced that the fourth increment had been delivered to operations May 19, with the operational baseline updated on June 25. This latest software update provides endurance mission re-planning and allows international partners to access and control protocol messages for the satellites.
“The AEHF Mission Planning Element enhancements are a great example of the U.S. Space Force ability to incrementally field operational capability to our warfighter Guardians and international partners at the speed of relevance,” said Barbara Baker, senior materiel leader for the Space Production Corps Command and Control Systems Division.
The fifth and final increment is in development and is expected to be operationally accepted in December 2022. That update will provide crypto planning, Worldwide Extremely High Frequency Beyond-line-of-Sight Terminal and Rapid Adaptive Planning and Situational Awareness, according to SMC. (Source: Defense News)
22 Jul 21. NSW government to establish local Space Research Network. NSW has announced $1.4m in funding to establish the NSW Space Research Network, to be co-hosted by the University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney and located at Tech Central. NSW is already home to more than a third of Australia’s space start-ups, and according to Stuart Ayres, Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, the state boasts impressive credentials in the space sector that include well-established space R&D infrastructure through its world-class universities and centres of excellence.
“NSW offers an extensive network of ground stations including CSIRO’s Australian Telescope National Facility installations at Narrabri, Coonabarabran and Parkes, the Optus Earth Station in Sydney and the Commonwealth government’s defence satellite station in Wagga Wagga,” Minister Ayres said.
The University of Sydney is currently involved with several innovative projects in the $150m Moon to Mars Demonstrator Feasibility Initiative, in collaboration with NASA, in support of Australian businesses to enter the global supply chains for the ambitious NASA program to return to the moon by 2024, and to land humans on Mars.
According to Professor Stefan Williams, network co-director at the University of Sydney, NSW enterprise aims to be at the forefront of the space sector.
“The Network will position NSW enterprise to compete in the space sector by connecting key stakeholders to undertake R&D activities with a focus on translation and impact,” Professor Williams said.
The projects include research on drilling, inference and navigation for geological operations, and working with Abyss Solutions to develop robotics for asset inspection and repairs for spaceborne operations. The university also leads an ARC Industry Transformation Centre focused on developing next-generation satellite technologies and is a partner in the SmartSat CRC.
The new group will help with common challenges encountered by industry, government and research organisations when trying to facilitate growth along the entire innovation value chain, according to Professor Robert Fitch of UTS, fellow co-director of the network.
“The new network will support collaboration between government and industry to deliver space-focused research outcomes and research translation for NSW, Australia and the world,” Professor Fitch said.
“From research collaboration, to workforce and facilities, through to securing exports and investment.”
The University of Technology Sydney leads space-related research activity in areas ranging from advanced antenna systems for satellite communications to critical supporting technologies such as advanced manufacturing for space systems.
UTS also partners with leading space SMEs, such as Space Machines, to support the growth of the space industry locally by providing access to its state-of-the-art research and development facilities, including the UTS Tech Lab in Botany.
The NSW Space Research Network will also leverage other space-related activities in the precinct, including the NSW Node of the SmartSat CRC and the new National Space Industry Hub.
The new network builds on the release of the NSW Space Industry Development Strategy. According to Minister Ayres, the investment will bring together universities, industry and government to tackle space challenges, translate vital research into commercial space products, attract investment, upskill graduates and drive growth in high-tech jobs.
“The network will build on NSW’s cutting-edge space R&D to support NSW enterprise to compete both locally and globally by leveraging significant domestic and international funding opportunities,” Minister Ayres added. (Source: Defence Connect)
21 Jul 21. UK-Australia Space Bridge gets under way. The first collaborative activity within the UK-Australia Space Bridge framework has been launched by SmartSat CRC, the UK Science and Innovation Network, and the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult, with the support of Austrade and the Australian Space Agency.
Applications for project funding close on 30 August.
SmartSat CRC and the Satellite Applications Catapult will fund up to four research projects that align to the mutual benefits of both countries and create collaboration through the Space Bridge. The projects must be completed by 30 June 2022 and will be funded up to AUD$100,000 (GBP50,000) per project. SmartSat CRC will manage the assessment process, in collaboration with the UK’s Science and Innovation Network and the Satellite Applications Catapult. Projects should involve UK and Australia partners and align to the SA Catapult Roadmap or SmartSat CRC Strategic Plan.
These preliminary phase projects aim to develop and foster partnerships across academia and industry in both the UK and Australia. It is expected the projects will lead to larger collaborative research projects that grow industry capacity, provide an innovative end-product or capability, and build upon the respective space ecosystems of each country.
Projects will address four topic areas identified as strategically beneficial to the mutual interests of each country:
- Earth Observation and Climate Resilience
- Agriculture and Land Management from Space
- Enabling Connectivity and Innovative Space Communications
- Quantum Technologies for Space.
SmartSatCRC Chief Executive Officer Professor Andy Koronios said, “This is the first joint initiative to be undertaken since the announcement of the Space Bridge with the backing of both the UK and Australian governments. It is just the beginning of the exciting collaborative partnerships that aim for long term growth and commercial opportunities for both countries.”
Applications are due by 5pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, Monday 30 August 2021. For more information visit the SmartSat CRC website Or email: SpaceBridge@smartsatcrc.com (Source: Rumour Control)
20 Jul 21. EarthDaily Analytics Announces Timeline for the Launch of Next Generation Satellite Constellation.
EarthDaily Analytics unveils plan to launch a new ground-breaking constellation in 2023.
EarthDaily Analytics Corp., a vertically-integrated data processing and analytics company, today announces the timeline for the launch of the company’s new constellation of earth observing satellites. The EarthDaily satellite constellation will significantly enhance geospatial analytics capabilities in agriculture, forestry, environment, financial services, and defense and intelligence, among many other verticals.
Construction of the new generation of satellites will begin in July 2021, with launches scheduled in 2023. The new satellites will collect scientific-grade imagery of the planet in a unique combination of 21 spectral bands, many of which will be 5-meter resolution. The constellation will have an expected lifespan of over 10 years.
“EarthDaily Analytics’ nine satellite constellation is a system capable of imaging virtually the entire world’s landmass every day, in addition to significant portions of the planet’s maritime areas,” says Don Osborne, CEO of EarthDaily Analytics. “Our plan is now fully underway. This constellation is going to change the business of monitoring both natural and human-caused change across the planet, enabling a wide range of ground-breaking AI and machine learning applications and at scale, global geoanalytics.”
The mission plan is as follows:
- July 2021 – Mission Kick Off and Launch of the Foundational Partner Program (FPP
- August 2021 – EarthPipeline to become an AWS Certified Independent Software Vendor (ISV) (processing and calibration engine for EarthDaily constellation)
- September 2021 – Launch of EarthMosaics Beta service to automatically generate cloud-free large area mosaics of the Earth
- 2022 – Launch of New Analytics Platform for Agriculture
- 2023 – Satellites launched and operational
International private equity firm Antarctica Capital announced the formation of EarthDaily Analytics Corporation (EDA) in April 2021. EDA has developed a market leading, proprietary cloud-based data processing software that transforms raw imagery into highly accurate, analytics-ready imagery products. The company’s Geosys division is a 30-year market leader in satellite data analytics for the agriculture sector.
“We are very excited to kick off this program. We have begun ordering hardware and we are on track to getting our constellation operational by 2023,” said Osborne. “The deployment of the EarthDaily satellites will fulfill a growing demand for high quality, rapidly-processed, and spectrally-rich satellite imagery. Data from the new constellation can be available to customers within hours of acquisition to provide near real time information.”
In addition to the timeline, EarthDaily Analytics has announced the formation of our Foundational Partnership Program (FPP), a pre-launch opportunity for customers to become early-adopter strategic partners in the EarthDaily Satellite Constellation program.
About EarthDaily Analytics
EarthDaily Analytics (EDA) is a Canadian company with headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, providing evidence-based, actionable insights for addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges, from sustainable agriculture and disaster management to climate change monitoring and forestry protection, among many others. Its Geosys division, with operations in Minneapolis, USA, and Toulouse, France, has more than thirty years of AgTech experience analyzing weather and satellite data for agriculture, serving stakeholders across the agricultural value chain with proven solutions for monitoring and benchmarking crops throughout the growing season.
EDA has developed EarthPipeline, the world’s first Ground Segment as a Service, that uses proprietary algorithms combined with the latest advancements in computer vision and machine learning to produce scientific quality Analytics Ready Data in the cloud at massive scale for “big data” infrastructure and geoanalytics. This fully automated processing pipeline is used with data from a number of satellite sensors to power the geoanalytics services ofits Geosys division and is now being offered commercially. EDA is also developing the EarthDaily Satellite Constellation to image the Earth’s landmass and large maritime areas every single day, with the data being processed by EarthPipeline to produce scientific-quality superspectral imagery that will power groundbreaking innovations in a wide range of AI and machine learning applications. For more information, visit www.earthdaily.com.
Geosys is the first global digital agriculture company founded by agronomists. With 30 years of industry experience, Geosys provides customers with the data, analysis and knowledge they need to make more efficient and effective decisions. B2B services range from global risk management and monitoring of agricultural commodities to the marketing of inputs and precision agriculture consulting, using the latest research in agronomy, information technologies and remote sensing. Geosys also develops highly customized business solutions for agricultural lenders, insurers, input suppliers and food companies, with easy-to-use analytics, that help reduce the daily risks of agriculture. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with offices in Europe, Australia and Brazil. Geosys a division of EarthDaily Analytics provides space age data and analytics for the organizations and people who feed the planet. For more information, visit www.geosys.com.
About Antarctica Capital
Antarctica Capital is an international private equity firm headquartered in New York with assets under management in excess of $2bn as of December 31, 2020. Antarctica Capital is a registered investment advisor and is dedicated to investments in private markets and real assets and the establishment of long-term capital vehicles to leverage this investment focus. Antarctica Capital’s investment approach is active ownership with an inherent focus on sustainability and to provide more than capital to develop companies. The firm has an absolute return focus, which leads the firm to rigorously evaluate and build conviction around idiosyncratic investment opportunities and build value through the implementation of its investment strategies, such as SIGA®, SARO® and SEREY™. (Source: PR Newswire)
21 Jul 21. Thales Australia and WSU receive grant funding under Moon to Mars initiative. The WSU ICNS Neuromorphic Event Based Vision Sensor (EBVS) which has won grant funding under the government’s Moon to Mars Initiative. Image: via Thales Australia
Thales Australia, in partnership with the International Centre for Neuromorphic Systems at Western Sydney University (WSU ICNS), has received grant funding from the Australian government’s Moon to Mars initiative to help develop new Australian technologies for potential use on NASA’s Moon to Mars mission.
Thales Australia and the WSU ICNS, in collaboration with Thales Alenia Space, aims to use the grant to leverage the European Robotic Orbital Support Services (EROSS+) program.
The ICNS’s Neuromorphic Event Based Vision Sensor (EBVS) capability will be tested with Thales’ Spacecraft and Planetary Imaging by Camera Model (SPICAM). The research team will also assess the feasibility of neuromorphic sensors for potential application in complex in-orbit processes including spacecraft docking, refuelling and payload transfer or replacement.
The project aims to focus on the performance gains achieved using EBVS technology over existing sensors in support of orbital support service activities in high contrast visual environments. It will also determine performance gains for combined use of EBVS and existing sensors through sensor fusion.
The project supports the commitments made by Thales Australia’s Strategic Statement of Intent signed with the Australian Space Agency in December 2019, and is indicative of potential future export opportunities available to Australian businesses and research institutions through Thales’ global supply chain. (Source: Rumour Control)
20 Jul 21. Blue Origin launches first human flight with Jeff Bezos on board. The Washington Post reported that Jeff Bezos rocketed past the edge of space Tuesday, launching from the improbable spaceport he has built in the West Texas desert here and fulfilling the lifelong dream of a die-hard Trekkie who was transfixed by the Apollo 11 moon landing and has pledged to use his fortune to open space for the masses.
Lifting off at about 9:12 a.m. Eastern time, the New Shepard rocket that Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has been developing for years carried one of the of the most unusual astronaut crews ever to depart Earth. In addition to Bezos, on board the capsule were Bezos’ brother, Mark, Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands who lucked into the flight when the winner of an auction for the fourth seat had to postpone. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The launch set a record for both the oldest and youngest person to fly to space, and came nine days after Richard Branson flew on a similar suborbital trajectory. The back-to-back launches amounted to yet another sign of space exploration’s modern renaissance, a movement that is being fueled not just by nations but by a surging commercial space industry backed by billionaires.
- The launch was slightly delayed scheduled from its 9 a.m. Eastern time from Bezos’s ranch in West Texas near the town of Van Horn.
- The four-person crew could be heard celebrating wildly after the capsule touched down. They were Bezos, his brother, Mark Bezos; Wally Funk, a famed 82-year-old aviator who once trained to fly to space but never went because women were not selected for the first U.S. space flights; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands who was added to the flight when the winner of an auction for the seat bowed out.
- The flight appeared to go without hitches as it rose past the 62-miles height that is considered by many where space begins. (Source: Washington Post)
20 Jul 21. Korean Air begins research on RoKAF-commissioned project to launch space rockets using commercial aircraft. Korean Air announced on 20 July that it recently began conducting research on the feasibility of using modified large commercial aircraft for air-launching space rockets and orbital vehicles as part of a joint project with Seoul National University that was commissioned by the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF).
More specifically, the South Korean airline said in a statement that it will “analyse the Boeing 747-400’s current technology capability, major technology to be applied, annual operating costs, and necessary aircraft modification for air-launching”, adding that the development and operation of such a system has now become possible following the termination in late May of the US-South Korean ‘Revised Missile Guidelines’ agreement, which had limited the range of South Korean missiles to 800 km.
The company described the research project as “especially meaningful”, noting that, because air-launched vehicles/rockets can be launched in various directions and along different routes, this “will help [South] Korea to overcome its geographical limitations”. The northeast Asian country can currently only launch satellites southward from the Naro Space Center in South Jeolla Province’s Goheung County.
While the military, government, and companies scramble to announce plans to deploy small satellite constellations in the ‘new space age’, an environment to launch small satellites in South Korea “has not been established yet”, noted Korean Air. Therefore, “it is inevitable to use overseas projectiles, which take more than two years on average from the signing of the contract to the actual launch. This is the reason why the development of air-launching capabilities must be prioritised,” it added. (Source: Jane’s)
19 Jul 21. US military must avoid a ‘Kasserine Pass’ failure for space power. The first battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa in February 1943 revealed some hard lessons learned for U.S. forces in their first major encounter in the European-North Africa-Middle East theater during World War II. This battle represented the only major engagement during World War II, or since, where U.S. forces did not own air superiority, with disastrous results.
Of the many lessons in this poor first performance for America’s military in the struggle against the Axis powers, most prominent for airmen were the consequences of not having a single independent air commander directing limited air assets to achieve air superiority, and the assigning of airpower units to land force commanders as “auxiliary” forces. America cannot afford to repeat these mistakes when it comes to command and control of space power and maintaining space superiority in a future conflict with a peer adversary.
One of the primary reasons U.S. Space Command was reestablished and the U.S. Space Force created was to ensure necessary war-fighting synergies are achieved through unity of effort under an independent commander for U.S. military space power. Complicating this goal for space are two factors: the differing priorities for space assets developed, launched and controlled by the director of national intelligence as opposed to those fielded by the U.S. military (although not wholly accurate, this is sometimes described as Title 50 versus Title 10), and the roles and missions tensions of individual services insisting on maintaining indigenous capabilities to directly support their own forces.
The Intelligence Community tends to prioritize limited overhead assets for support to national strategic policymakers rather than for direct tactical support to war fighters. While various legacy efforts were created to increase tactical space support to war fighters, such as each service’s Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities (TENCAP) programs, tensions remain between national strategic intelligence priorities and direct war-fighter support.
So, when the chief of space operations announced the Space Force’s effort to build a network of satellites to perform the Ground Moving Target Indicator mission, that is, to assume the current JSTARS aircraft role of tracking mobile enemy vehicles on the ground, questions immediately arose as to which community, defense or IC, would exercise command and control of this new space-borne capability. However, the U.S. Space Force, with its codified Title 10 responsibility to “conduct space operations,” is the proper authority to command, control and operate such crucial tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
There are also continuing examples of parochial service attitudes that will have the effect of diluting both budgets and synergies for space capabilities. The most recent example is the U.S. Army approving plans to develop and field its own constellation of satellites to form a tactical space layer to provide deep area sensing, rapid targeting and unmatched battlefield situational awareness.
Roles and mission arguments aside on the appropriateness of the Army sensing in “deep areas,” the Army’s plan is reminiscent of the grave error of assigning airpower as subordinate to land force units during the ill-fated Kasserine Pass battle, which negated the greater value of assigning limited assets under a single independent air commander for maximum effect in the war-fighting campaign. It’s also concerning to note the complete lack of reference to the U.S. Space Force in Army writings on their tactical space layer, intimating the Army desires to maintain indigenous space capabilities for its own use, capabilities that are more effectively centrally managed by an independent space commander for the successful outcome of the broader war-fighting campaign.
The U.S. Space Force is assigned the organize, train and equip responsibilities codified in Title 10 to provide trained and ready space forces to fulfill combatant commander requirements. This means the secretary of the Air Force, through the chief of space operations, must act as the chief architect for the Department of Defense’s space enterprise to ensure all DoD military space capabilities are aligned and synchronized. Similarly, the chief of space operations, through his components for the war-fighting combatant commanders, must act as the single independent space commander to ensure always-limited space assets are employed to their maximum effect and avoid a future “Kasserine Pass” failure in space.
The congressional defense committees should closely monitor the continued development of the U.S. Space Force for adherence to their original legislative intent, and exercise the necessary oversight and budgetary responsibilities to make needed course corrections. (Source: Defense News)
19 Jul 21. NRO Erects Buy American Barriers Against Allied Satellite Data. The new policy is inconsistent with efforts by DoD and NGA to expand the trusted supplier base by better integrating allied firms into their acquisition chains, critics say. A new National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) policy limits its pool of potential commercial remote sensing vendors to US firms — eschewing even companies based in allied nations with US operations legally approved to sell weapons to DoD.
“The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has made the determination that the solicitation for procurement of commercial imagery for operational support shall be limited to US-owned, US-operated and US-controlled companies,” states a March 18 letter signed by Benjamin Fallon, head of congressional and public affairs. The letter, obtained by Breaking Defense, was addressed to the leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Ranking Member Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
The decision has raised eyebrows and generated some push back from elsewhere in the national security community, numerous government and independent sources say — including from within the Pentagon and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which uses commercial imagery along with that generated by spy satellites and other sources to craft GEOINT analyses for military commanders.
If nothing else, critics say, the NRO policy is at odds with attempts by NGA and DoD to better integrate the allied industrial base into that of the US in order to create stronger and more diverse trusted supply chains. For example, the Space Force’s SpaceWERX innovation hub last November co-sponsored with the UK government an International Pitch Day for US and UK space industry startups. And NGA’s policy on commercial imagery states: “We will rely on foreign partner assessments of commercial capabilities to speed mission application; and the NSG will integrate allied capabilities to fill intelligence gaps and provide early warning advantage.”
NRO has argued that its decision is based on language inserted by Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aimed at maximizing NRO use of commercial remote sensing, and NGA procurement of commercial GEOINT services. (In 2017, authority to procure commercial satellite imagery for military and intelligence purposes shifted from NGA to NRO; NGA retains the responsibility for acquiring commercial GEOINT analyses and related software capabilities.)
Section 1612, “Leveraging Commercial Satellite Remote Sensing,” states that DoD, in consultation with NRO and NGA, “shall leverage, to the maximum extent practicable, the capabilities of United States industry, including through the use of commercial geospatial-intelligence services and acquisition of commercial satellite imagery.”
But, according to one intel expert who follows the issue closely, SSCI staffers were baffled by the rigid interpretation of the provision by NRO — summoning agency officials up to the Hill in to explain themselves in a closed-door meeting.
“Folks on the Hill said: you know, we have phones, and e-mail addresses — if you want to know what we think about something, how about you ask us, instead of tell us,” the source said.
Neither Warner’s nor Rubio’s office responded to requests for comment; nor did Cruz’s office or spokespersons for either the House or Senate Armed Services Committees.
“NRO did indeed go further than the Congress in saying they would only buy American, and clearly it is not what the subject clause from the NDAA says,” former DoD head of space policy, Doug Loverro, believes.
“This is a difficult legal proposition for the NRO,” he added. “They absolutely have the right under the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] to issue contracts on other than full and open conditions (FAR 6.302.6) due to national security concerns, but a properly mitigated company with full FOCI protection and internal controls that would eliminate any leakage of classified information to the foreign entity should (in theory) have a legal right to compete.”
FOCI (Foreign Ownership, Control and Influence) Mitigation Agreements are signed off on by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). The process for receiving approval is complicated and time-consuming, as you’d expect. Still, numerous foreign-owned firms from allied countries do billions of dollars of business with DoD after being approved by DCSA.
Loverro explained that while the FAR “provides pretty wide latitude,” it could be “difficult for the NRO to maintain a position where it says firm XYZ, which might be a US firm, has 35% foreign shareholder/investor ownership, should be eligible for a contract; but not firm ABC which is a full FOCI mitigated US entity.”
The intel expert believes the NRO essentially has “now said DCSA doesn’t count; that going through the entire mitigation of foreign influence, FOCI mitigation, is not sufficient for the NRO. How do they make a new rule for the DoD and the IC? The NRO has no authority to do that,” the expert said.
In an extraordinary joint statement in response to Breaking Defense questions, the NRO and NGA said:
NGA and NRO work closely together to discover, assess, and acquire commercial solutions to support national security requirements. The uses of commercial GEOINT vary across the U.S. government and each agency assesses those solutions to meet different mission needs.
The NRO is responsible for acquiring commercial imagery on behalf of the Intelligence Community. … NRO commercial acquisitions, including the recently proposed EOCL acquisition strategy, are consistent with U.S. policy, the recent U.S. National Space Policy, and the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that direct the use of U.S. domestic commercial imagery where those sources can satisfy requirements. …The NRO uses the DoD Foreign Operated, Controlled or Influenced (FOCI) process for other procurements where applicable.
NGA purchases GEOINT data, products, and services from both U.S. and foreign companies which meet requirements for mission utility and trustworthiness, to best meet geospatial intelligence mission needs while weighing the security risks of any foreign influence. NGA uses the DoD Foreign Operated, Controlled or Influenced mitigation process. The security risks associated with purchasing foreign capabilities can be mitigated by applying Supply Chain Risk Management and data integrity practices, as well as considering Foreign Operated, Controlled or Influenced factors and applying special security agreements, as needed.
Deep Fakes & Peeping Toms
Meanwhile, NRO has been exploring how to better integrate imagery from American-based commercial firms to a greater extent than it did in the past — in essence abandoning the Intelligence Community’s long-standing monogamous relationship with Maxar Technologies (formerly Digital Globe).
NRO’s Commercial Systems Program Office (CSPO) has signed a series of study contracts with electro-optical imagery providers BlackSky Global, HySpecIQ, and Planet (as well as to Maxar) to review their capabilities against the agency’s future requirements.
For example, on July 15, San Francisco-based Planet announced that NRO has “extended its contract with Planet Federal to provide continued access to Planet’s Dove and SkySat imagery to the US Defense and Intelligence Communities. The contract now also includes early exploration of Planet’s SkySat video capabilities for limited use cases.” (Planet Federal is the firm’s subsidiary handling classified government work.)
NRO had originally planned to issue a formal a request for proposals (RFP) to industry late last year focused on electro-optical imagery, looking to issue contracts through 2025. That RFP now is expected to come out in late summer or early fall, with contracts issued by the end of the year, according to a report by Space News.
The NRO statement explained that a draft RFP was issued in June for the “proposed Electro Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL) acquisition strategy,” and is “subject to change as a result of input received from interested parties.” (Which, at least on the face of it, seems to indicate that the agency may be willing to negotiate on the Buy American policy.)
NRO has similar contracts with Capella Space, which operates synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, and HawkEye 360, which operates satellites that conduct remote sensing of radio frequency (RF) transmissions. An RFP focused on SAR data is expected soon, according to industry reps.
Nonetheless, another intelligence specialist explained, the NRO is nervous about the possibility that using commercial imagery would open the US spy agency up to spoofing or spying by adversaries.
One issue is the potential for an adversary to manipulate the imagery and data to create “deep fakes,” which use a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to make false videos, photos, or audio tracks, the expert said. Such deep fakes are rampant on online social media, often created by hackers with ties to the Russian and Chinese governments.
Another potential issue with commercial imagery is that adversaries could infiltrate a company’s network and simply “watch” what images NRO uses, via a form of “peeping Tom” software, the source added.
“The fear of intercepted tasking providing ‘indications and warning’ to others/adversaries and perhaps using that knowledge as part of a deception strategy is definitely a concern,” agreed one former US intelligence official.
However, other experts say, there is a large question surrounding whether that risk would be any more substantial for foreign-owned firms than for US-owned firms, especially if the non-US firm has gone through the FOCI process.
Fox Overseeing The Henhouse?
Sources say that another factor that may have played into the decision is that NRO doesn’t like the competition, and instead plans to produce more imagery internally, via its own satellites.
It is important to remember that NRO develops, acquires and operates its own technologically exquisite and extremely expensive imagery, signals and measurement intelligence gathering satellites, and provides the information gathered not just to military commanders and NGA, but also to the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, and others.
Indeed, some supporters of the new NRO policy say that analysts are swamped with with too much imagery already — so it isn’t worth opening up new risks for the limited benefit it would have for users.
Many in industry, however, have long suspected that the NRO might not be inclined to support commercial companies that are effectively in competition with it, and whose success might undercut its internal budget and resource pool. This fear is not without some historical precedence to back it up.
But the fact that NRO is planning to increase its own capabilities shouldn’t really have any affect on buying US versus non-US commercial data, the former official said.
Unless, of course, one believes that non-US firms actually have better capabilities, the intelligence expert mused. In some arenas, the source explained, such as SAR, that isn’t necessarily a far-fetched notion, given that — because of previous NRO policies — US commercial firms are relatively new to the marketplace, whereas a number of European firms such as Airbus and ICEYE have been up and running for years.
Todd Master, a former DARPA official and now Umbra’s chief operating officer, begs to differ.
“Mitigating foreign influence is one thing, but every dollar spent on SAR built by a foreign-owned company with US subsidiary supports the further development of dual use technologies that are outside of US regulatory control,” he said in an email. “If there were no credible US sources, or if the US sources were prohibitively expensive, I would support those arguments. But there ARE credible US sources (including our competitors) that are equally or more capable than foreign ones.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
11 Jul 21. Satcube Awarded Grant To Develop New, Low Cost, LEO Satellite Terminal. Swedish public innovation agency, Vinnova, has awarded an SEK 4m development grant to a Swedish project group aimed at boosting development of a next generation, low-cost, LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite terminal — the award is part of Vinnova’s Electronic components & systems — research and innovation projects 2021.
The project group, led by Satcube and including Chalmers University of Technology, Gapwaves and Forsway Scandinavia, have joined forces to develop a benchmark satellite terminal featuring dramatically lower cost, size and weight compared to existing LEO offerings.
As the most important cost driver for a highly cost-efficient terminal is the antenna, the collaborators will focus primarily on developing a benchmark planar Ka-band antenna array, assessing features such as electronic / mechanic beam steering, gap waveguide technology and receive-only architecture.
As a broad playing field of organizations and leading SATCOM providers are currently deploying LEO satellite constellations, many leading industry proponents believe these initiatives can be an important force in reducing current global digital divide, tapping the ubiquitous provision of satellite broadband coverage based on new cost-effective satellites.
Existing LEO end-user satellite terminals are expensive, hindering mass market adoption – particularly in economically less developed rural areas where incomes and resources are relatively low. Developing a robust, low-cost satellite terminal will be key to driving change. (Source: Satnews)
12 Jul 21. Reusable Space Ecosystems Under Development By Modularity Space and Orbital Transports. With flights starting in 2022, Modularity Space is mass producing reusable satellites and renting them to space companies for use in hosting their technology. Much like an apartment rental, customers pay a deposit before move-in and then pay monthly throughout the duration of their mission. Space companies can now benefit from rapid manufacturing timelines, affordable financing to get to space, and the reliability that comes from effective on-orbit satellite servicing.
“We’re over the Moon to partner with Modularity Space to deliver reusable satellites,” said David Hurst, CEO of Orbital Transports. “As a space logistics provider, Orbital Transports delivers complete small satellite programs from initial concept through completed mission. Under the agreement with Modularity Space, Orbital Transports will provide mission services, including systems engineering, design, development, payload testing and integration; and supply chain management services including smallsat products and services procurement, delivery schedule monitoring, product quality assessment, regulatory review, and shipping logistics. “If you want to put a payload in space or even deploy instruments in a constellation, there’s no longer any reason to build your own satellite. Let us handle the space logistics of getting you there so you can focus on your primary mission objectives.”
“Our partnership with Orbital Transports signifies a major milestone in the transition to reusable space as we are enabling standardization, automation, and mass production of reusable space systems,” said Scott Weintraub, CEO of Modularity Space. “By partnering with Orbital Transports, leveraging their expertise, and building a constellation of satellites designed to be serviced in space, and then renting the space on each satellite in the constellation, space companies can build an entire constellation of sensors in space, without ever having to build an actual satellite. Combine this with the space tug companies coming online in search of spacecraft to service in space, and together, Modularity Space and Orbital Transports are enabling a reusable space ecosystem to be born.”
Orbital Transports is bringing the smallsat supply chain online with the SmallSat Catalog, a digital portal showcasing products and services from some of the industry’s most innovative and reliable companies. The SmallSat Catalog is a one-stop shop for all your smallsat supply chain needs, and features CubeSat and smallsat buses, COTS nanosatellite hardware components, ground station services, satellite servicing and refueling technologies, development and test equipment, space biotech experiment modules, and more. The SmallSat Catalog provides a convenient go-to resource to check out the latest and greatest that the smallsat industry has to offer. (Source: Satnews)
12 Jul 21. SES To Lead Quantum Comms Consortium To Define The Infrastructure For Europe. To design the LuxQCI, Luxembourg has put in place a consortium comprising InCert, itrust consulting, LuxConnect, LuxTrust and the University of Luxembourg (SnT), that is led by SES’s fully-owned affiliate SES Techcom. One of the LuxQCI’s main functions will be to ensure quantum key distribution (QKD), an ultra-secure form of encryption that uses the principles of quantum mechanics. Enabled via satellites, QKD can secure confidential data, power grids, government communications and digital transactions, including against attacks by quantum computers.
Once operational, LuxQCI will guarantee the security of digital transactions and of confidential information transfer over geographically dispersed areas. Early users of the infrastructure will be governmental and institutional authorities and business sectors requiring ultra-secure data transmission. QCI will ultimately evolve into a Quantum Internet, linking quantum processors and sensors and enabling an EU-wide distributed quantum computing and communication capability.
The LuxQCI is an integral part of the European Quantum Communication Infrastructure (EuroQCI), an initiative from the European Commission that was officially launched in June of 2019, which represents a federation of all the national infrastructures of the 27 EU Member States. Luxembourg was among the first seven Member States that signed this declaration.
As the ultra-secure form of encryption is only possible via a combination of terrestrial and space networks, the cornerstone element for the next-generation cybersecurity LuxQCI will be developed by a consortium of renowned Luxembourg-based entities that combines the relevant expertise of the private sector, research and development community and public agencies. Luxembourg’s first national Quantum Communication Infrastructure will support the country’s ambitions within the EuroQCI strategy, resulting in a roadmap for its implementation.
The LuxQCI project will include, among other key objectives, the design of the country’s national QCI, integrating both terrestrial and space-based Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) into an innovative hybrid Key Management System (hKMS). It will also plan for the integration of Luxembourg’s national QCI with other European QCI initiatives.
Luxembourg’s national QCI will leverage SES’s extensive expertise in developing relevant technologies, such as QUARTZ. Under this ESA-funded initiative, SES and a consortium of partners have, since 2018, been developing an engineering model for the QKD system that allows the generation of encryption keys from space, as well as their secure transmission to users on Earth via laser. (Source: Satnews)
13 Jul 21. KSAT Adds New Ka-Band KSATlite Antenna To Their Antarctic Troll Station. The majority of EO satellite systems continue to use X-band to download their data, but as data collection volumes increases, Ka-band offers high throughput, low latency and a less congested spectrum. The KSAT polar ground stations have proven to be optimally suited for operating Ka-band antennas. Having a higher sensitivity to weather conditions and especially precipitation, located in dry areas is an important prerequisite for success.
KSAT is a first mover within Ka-band and has been exploring the advantages of this higher frequency-band with both commercial operators such as Astro Digital as well as institutional users like NASA, NOAA and EUMETSAT.
The new KSATlite antenna in Antarctica is operated as an integrated part of the KSATlite network as well as being a part of the fully operational KSAT polar Ka-band network that consists of 6 polar multi-mission antenna systems (4 Tri-band and 2 Dual-band). With 2 additional antennas being installed in 2021, the KSAT Polar Ka-band network will number 8 antennas by the end of this year.
The network is providing operational services to JPSS from Svalbard and Troll and will support EUMETSAT 2nd generation. It will also support NASA’s NiSAR and PACE missions from KSAT stations in Svalbard, Antarctica and Punta Arenas.
The KSAT ground network consists of more than 200 antennas located at 26 sites world-wide.
”In KSAT we are technology-independent in our approach. Our mission is to connect space and earth and to do that in the most effective way for our customers, we need to continuously explore and assess all new technologies,” said KSAT President and CEO, Rolf Skatteboe. ”Operational Ka-band has proven its true value. We believe in this market, so instead of waiting for the onboard systems and the customers to go first, we decided to take a pro-active approach; implementing new technologies based on future demands. This is exactly the same thing we have done for optical, where we have invested in, and installed, the world´s first commercially available optical telescope in Greece.“ (Source: Satnews)
13 Jul 21. New Q-/V-Band Phased Array Satellite Antennas Debut From ThinKom. The new low-profile antenna, based on ThinKom’s patented Variable Inclination Continuous Transverse Stub (VICTS) technology, will operate in the Q- and V-band frequencies (37.5-42.5 GHz and 47.2-51.4 GHz). These bands have been designated for adoption by major satellite operators in low-, medium-, geostationary and highly elliptical orbits (LEO, MEO, GEO and HEO).
Similar Q-band MMW antennas have already been built and on-satellite tested by ThinKom for Q-band aeronautical and ground-mobile use.
ThinKom’s full-duplex terminal is 75 cm square and less than 10 cm in height, weighing less than 23 kg and requiring less than 100 watts of prime power; yet providing the same functionality as two, separate, 50 cm diameter, stabilized, parabolic dish, antenna radome enclosures.
The Chairman and CTO of the company, Bill Milroy, noted the degree of difficulty in producing viable electronically scanned arrays (ESAs) that can operate in these higher MMW bands, especially in area efficiency, packaging, power density, thermal management and cost. In contrast, the new antennas from ThinKom will provide industry leading spectral efficiency, low power consumption, high power efficiency and low heat generation. They will be offered in configurations for aeronautical and ground-based fixed and mobile applications.
“This new phased-array development is timed to fully enable the upcoming frequency revolution that promises to unlock massive new available bandwidth at these higher MMW frequencies for next-generation LEO and MEO satellite constellations,” said Bill Milroy, Chairman and CTO of ThinKom Solutions. “And it uses our proven VICTS architecture, ensuring it will deliver the efficiency, instantaneous bandwidth, reliability, resiliency and overall availability our customers have come to expect from ThinKom. The new user terminals will include uninterrupted ‘make-before-break’ (MbB) and ‘break-before-make’ (BbM) connectivity options, depending on the requirements of a given application. The MbB terminals will support two simultaneous full-duplex beams that can be independently pointed at two different satellites. The LEO and MEO satellites move rapidly across the sky from horizon to horizon, so the multi-beam capability of the new ThinKom MbB terminal ensures uninterrupted services while switching between rising and setting satellites. It also allows multiple satellites or channels to be bonded, either within the same or even across different constellations, doubling throughput capability. The antenna also supports full frequency and polarization diversity, which is another key enabler for maximizing satellite throughput.” (Source: Satnews)
13 Jul 21. Southern Launch’s Whaler’s Way Launch Site In Australia Approved By Australian Space Agency — Pad 1 Construction Underway. Whalers Way will host satellite launches into orbit around the Earth’s poles and support the growing Internet of Things (IoT), Earth Observation (EO) and space communications industries that supports improved farming, water management and logistics operations worldwide, setting South Australia up to start capturing part of the $5.5bn global space launch market.
The Complex, located on the tip of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, is set to transform Port Lincoln and South Australia into a vibrant space hub and will attract space industry related jobs and growth to the region.
The License was signed by the Hon Christian Porter MP Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, after Southern Launch completed the licensing process through the Australian Space Agency. The approval of the launch facility license comes after the announcement from Minister Porter of the new measures to support the growth of Australia’s civil space sector, including the deferral of cost recovery on launch applications for another year.
Construction of Pad 1 has begun, with the first of up to three test launches from the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex scheduled in the coming months. Pad 1 is positioned on an already cleared site at Whalers Way and will allow rockets to safely launch southwards over the Great Australian Bight. The launch pad was designed by Southern Launch with the construction awarded to local Port Lincoln company, Owen Construct and Design.
Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp said, “This is a momentous occasion for our team, to have been granted Australia’s first fixed space launch facility license, enabling Southern Launch to host rocket launches into space from Australian shores. Our team is now on track to commence the testing of three rocket launches from Whalers Way before the end of 2021. These tests signify a very real opportunity for Australia – becoming once again a space fairing nation.” (Source: Satnews)
16 Jul 21. MDA, SDA satellite efforts look to mature RF, optical broadband capabilities. The recent launch of small satellite platforms by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Space Development Agency (SDA) represent milestone moments in the department’s effort to advance networked, space-based radio frequency (RF) and optical broadband communication capabilities.
The MDA CubeSats were launched into orbit in late June aboard a LauncherOne rocket developed by Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space, LLC, according to an MDA statement on the operation. The launch was conducted as part of the CubeSat Networked Communications Experiment (CNCE) Block 1 programme, under the agency’s Nanosat Testbed Initiative (NTI). The pair of CubeSats are expected to remain on orbit for 90 days, which could be extended to a full year pending the results of the ongoing experimentation.
The NTI is designed to leverage “small, low-cost satellites to demonstrate networked radio communications between nanosatellites while in orbit”, agency officials said in the statement. “Transmitting data between interceptors, sensors, and communication systems is critical to a missile defence architecture that must quickly identify, track, and destroy incoming enemy missiles before they reach their targets,” they added.
Nanosatellites generally refer to a family of satellites approximately four to eight inches in width and diameter, four to 13 inches in length, and weighing from two to 22 pounds. CubeSats are a type of nanosatellite. (Source: Jane’s)
At Viasat, we’re driven to connect every warfighter, platform, and node on the battlefield. As a global communications company, we power millions of fast, resilient connections for military forces around the world – connections that have the capacity to revolutionize the mission – in the air, on the ground, and at sea. Our customers depend on us for connectivity that brings greater operational capabilities, whether we’re securing the U.S. Government’s networks, delivering satellite and wireless communications to the remote edges of the battlefield, or providing senior leaders with the ability to perform mission-critical communications while in flight. We’re a team of fearless innovators, driven to redefine what’s possible. And we’re not done – we’re just beginning.