Sponsored By Viasat
15 Feb 22. Viasat’s VISION Network Management Platform Achieves Department of Defense Certification. Viasat is the First Company to Receive the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) – Integrated Waveform Certification for its UHF Network Controller.
Viasat Inc. (NASDAQ: VSAT), a global communications company, today announced its Visual Integrated Satellite communications Information, Operation and Networking (VISION) management software has successfully achieved Department of Defense (DoD) Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) Integrated Waveform (IW) certification. With this certification, global defense customers using the VISION software will gain greater communications interoperability, scalability and flexibility across legacy and next-generation Ultra High Frequency (UHF) satellite communications (SATCOM) platforms, while meeting stringent U.S. DoD satellite access requirements.
VISION provides a user-friendly single network management interface for legacy UHF Demand-Assigned Multiple-Access (DAMA) and IW services. The integrated controller dramatically speeds warfighters’ abilities to connect on the battlefield, going from 90 seconds through a legacy UHF SATCOM system to as little as four seconds with IW. VISION also enables network operators to dynamically reconfigure UHF satellite networks on-the-fly to meet new mission priorities in real-time.
“Viasat is the only company to offer JITC-certified UHF SATCOM Network Channel Control software that meets the DoD’s performance standards to enhance situational awareness across the battlespace,” said Craig Miller, president, Viasat Government Systems. “The VISION platform is important because it enables global defense customers to optimize their UHF network management systems to gain resilient, secure UHF SATCOM capabilities with faster communications, greater reliability and improved functionality to support real-time mission needs.”
Viasat’s Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) VISION software enables users to locally or remotely manage and control ground station networks, monitor status and system performance, track event/alarm management situations and add/remove services when missions change. Operators can double their channel efficiency using IW networks without additional investment in the UHF space segment. This optimization doubles the number of simultaneous networks, giving more warfighters access to reliable, high-quality, resilient voice and data communications.
Additionally, Viasat’s VISION platform passed system testing and has been in operational service since 2019 for the NATO Communications and Information Agency as part of its UHF SATCOM modernization efforts. VISION is recognized as the first commercially available software package to simultaneously support legacy DAMA and next-generation IW (5 kHz and 25 kHz) networks and services.
Similarly, Viasat recently provided the VISION platform to the UK Ministry of Defence for expanded UHF Skynet satellite network capability.
17 Feb 22. PathFinder Digital is now delivering the next generation of its “BAT” line of ground mobile satellite communication terminals designed and built for military applications. For over ten years, PathFinder has been providing the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy ruggedized vehicle mounted and case based VSATs known as the “BAT” family of terminals. PathFinder’s BAT-850 VSAT is the next generation of terminals being delivered.
The BAT-850 VSAT is a 0.85M, carbon fiber, triband (X, Ku, Ka), quick-deploy, auto-acquisition terminal that is configured for either Flyaway (case based) or Drive-away (vehicle mounted) applications. Bands can quickly be changed using “quick swap” feed kits. The BAT-850 VSAT also features an integrated ODU (out-door unit) mounted between the sled rails that incorporates a 400W 48VDC BUC power supply, a 400W 28VDC antenna controller power supply, and a variety of optional integrated modems and routers. This multiband VSAT system provides upgradable/adaptable capabilities that give government customers solutions that can be deployed in varied missions and geographic locations worldwide. PathFinder’s SatCom solutions are designed with the warfighter/user in mind, allowing for the greatest possible ease of operation and field upgradability/repair. “The BAT-750 product line has served the warfighter well for the last ten plus years, especially in the U.S. Army’s Prophet Program. I’m looking forward to the fielding of this next evolution of the BAT product line, the BAT-850 VSAT,” says Roger McGarrahan, CEO of PathFinder Digital LLC.
About PathFinder Digital LLC
PathFinder specializes in the development of mobile ground terminal satellite communications solutions engineered to meet the unique and particular needs of each project, primarily for military and government agency programs. PathFinder develops the best solutions to meet the objectives of each set of communications requirements. PathFinder uses the best available products, re-engineered or developed, if necessary, to create the most effective and cost-beneficial communications solutions for its customers. (Source: PR Newswire)
16 Feb 22. Space Force wants to create a more welcoming environment for private industry. The U.S. Space Force’s procurement arm based in Los Angeles has launched a new effort to attract commercial space companies that do not typically work with the government, Joy White, executive director of the Space Systems Command, said Feb. 16.
The plan is to have Space Force representatives assigned at different locations in the United States who can engage with interested companies and identify opportunities for the Space Force to invest in “high potential technologies,” White said at a Space Foundation virtual event.
White, who is also head of contracting at Space Systems Command, said the initiative was named “SSC front door” although it is still in its infancy. “We’ve got to get a more clear access point for commercial industry to come in and to bring us their ideas, and bring us their technologies. So that is what SSC front door is intended to do.”
Teams assigned to the SSC front door effort will be based at the command’s headquarters in Los Angeles but also at other space industry hotbeds like NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Others will be in Colorado Springs and Kirtland, New Mexico, home of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Rapid Space Capabilities Office. In the future the plan is to bring people to the Washington, D.C. area as well, she said, “because there’s so much opportunity there to talk with folks and understand what capabilities are out there.”
The Space Systems Command is a massive organization with an $11 billion annual budget and nearly 10,000 personnel. White said the command has set a goal of transforming the military’s space architecture from one dominated by huge satellites in geostationary Earth orbit to more proliferated networks deployed in lower and higher orbits that would be more difficult for adversaries to attack.
The command has a 2026 target date to have new networks of satellites in orbit and needs help from the private sector, said White.
The Space Systems Command was stood up in August 2021, replacing the Space and Missile Systems Center which was first established in 1954, making it the oldest space organization in the U.S. military. “Over decades programs have gotten bogged down by traditional processes,” said White. The new chief of Space Systems Command, Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, is restructuring the organization to be more agile, she said.
White said the front door initiative is one of many efforts to ensure “we keep pace with the innovation of the commercial space sector.”
The command is still fine-tuning the front door concept so it doesn’t become too complex for small businesses, she said. “One thing I worry about is whether we have too many doors and so it might be confusing as to how to come in. We’ve got to get that tightened up.” (Source: glstrade.com/Space News)
16 Feb 22. EarthDaily Analytics Announces Imaging Payload Providers for the EarthDaily Satellite Constellation . EarthDaily Analytics Corp. (“EDA” or the “Company”), a vertically-integrated data processing and analytics company pairing cutting-edge Big Data tools with proven Space technologies, today announces additional sub-contracts for the Company’s EarthDaily Constellation, which will consist of 9 super-spectral satellites plus an in-orbit spare. The EarthDaily Constellation will provide unprecedented daily global coverage of the Earth’s land masses, significantly enhancing geospatial analytics capabilities to provide value-added insights in industries including agriculture, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), insurance, disaster prevention and recovery, commodities trading, and more by the end of 2023.
EDA is contracting with established Space industry leaders ABB and Xiphos Systems Corporation (“Xiphos”), both based in Quebec, Canada, to provide the imaging payload hardware. Both companies have significant heritage on Earth Observation missions, with both government and commercial missions, and their payload solutions have significantly benefited from the advanced technologies used in their recent and ongoing space programs. ABB will design and build the optical imagers and the associated proximity electronics, as well as integrate the overall payload onto a highly thermally stabilized optical bench assembly. Xiphos is providing the high-speed digital electronics that control the optical imagers, manage the substantial data volumes collected and stored onboard, and prepare the data for the spacecraft downlink system.
“As with our recently announced satellite bus partner, we are thrilled to be working with payload providers who are able to leverage their proven and existing technologies to develop a de-risked solution that also provides unprecedented performance capabilities. When combined with EDA’s proprietary, cloud-native data processing platform, EarthPipeline, this payload solution enables us to collect, process, and distribute ultra-high data quality image products and value-added geoanalytics with unprecedented efficiency and coverage. By empowering our customers across diverse verticals to make the best possible decisions for their businesses in real time, EDA is bringing a truly differentiated solution to the rapidly growing Earth Observation and value-added geoanalytics market,” said Don Osborne, CEO of EarthDaily Analytics.
“ABB is proud to contribute to the development of the EarthDaily Constellation,” said Marc Corriveau, General Manager, ABB Measurement & Analytics Canada. “This project marks an important milestone not only for our technology, but also for our diversification strategy focused on serving the private space sector. The sensor suite by ABB leverages landmark innovations developed on high-profile government space missions as well as our extended knowhow in volume optical sensor production. We are delighted to support the EarthDaily Constellation project that will enable a better understanding of our planet and help address some of the world’s most critical challenges.”
Edwin Faier, President of Xiphos, said, “We are very excited to be part of such a well-rounded and capable team in support of EDA’s innovative mission. The digital electronics for the EarthDaily Constellation satellite payloads leverage the performance, flexibility, and power efficiency of Xiphos’ latest generation of space processors, providing the constellation with an unparalleled capability set. Our proven technology will allow the EarthDaily Constellation to maximize the efficiency and volume of data extracted and processed from the powerful optical payload to provide timely data products that differentiate EDA from their competition in the Earth Observation industry.”
About EarthDaily Analytics
EarthDaily Analytics (EDA), headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a vertically integrated data processing and analytics company, utilizing cutting-edge Big Data tools and proven Space technologies to provide value-added insights to the people, businesses, and governmental entities confronting the world’s most pressing challenges. Through its EarthDaily Agro (formerly Geosys) subsidiary, EDA has a track record of more than 30 years as a leader in the collection and commercial application of Earth Observation data for agriculture analytics.
In 2021, EDA initiated construction of the EarthDaily Constellation with committed support from Antarctica Capital. Following planned launches in 2023, the EarthDaily Constellation will combine with the EarthPipeline data processing system to provide unprecedented, scientific-grade data of the world every day, positioning EDA to meet the growing needs of diverse industries including agriculture, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), insurance, disaster prevention and recovery, commodities trading, and more.
For more information, visit www.earthdaily.com.
About Antarctica Capital
Antarctica Capital is an international private equity firm headquartered in New York with assets under management in excess of $2 billion 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™.For more information, visit www.antarcticacapital.com. (Source: PR Newswire)
15 Feb 22. The First Shots in a Ukraine Conflict May Be in Space. This past November, the Russian Federation destroyed one of its own Soviet-era satellites with a missile, sending thousands of scraps of shrapnel hurtling through space, a cloud of debris that threatened other orbiting satellites including those belonging to the U.S.
U.S. government officials quickly rebuked the missile launch as “reckless and dangerous,” and the military took it as a sign that Russia has no qualms about opening fire in space.
The missile launch could be a preamble, a reminder that, as the threat of a Russian invasion looms in Ukraine and modern warfare increasingly relies on satellites for intelligence and communications, space could be one of the first battlefields, according to experts.
Read Next: Russia Says Some Forces Pulling Back amid Ukraine Crisis
That leaves U.S. Space Command, and the newly created Space Force, to take the lead on defending the nation’s satellite fleet from attack.
Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that with the U.S. trying to avoid putting boots on the ground and aircraft in Russian airspace, a vast amount of America’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is going to come from outer space.
And the Russians know it.
“We can’t get aircraft involved, but it does make outer space a target for Russia,” Harrison said.
A potential conflict with Ukraine might also serve as the first opportunity for the newest service branch, the Space Force, to show the American public how important its role is, according to Harrison.
“This may be the conflict that gets the Space Force past the Trump-era laugh factor and shows the importance of their mission,” he said.
The missile launch incident this past November was not the first time Russia has flexed its muscle in space.
Gen. David Thompson, the Space Force’s first vice chief of space operations, told The Washington Post that Russia sent a small satellite so close to a U.S. “national security satellite” in 2019 that it wasn’t clear whether it was attacking or not.
The Russian satellite backed off and conducted a weapons test by releasing a small target it then shot with a projectile.
“It maneuvered close, it maneuvered dangerously, it maneuvered threateningly so that they were coming close enough that there was a concern of collision,” Thompson told the paper. “So clearly, the Russians were sending us a message.”
Physical attacks on satellites are not widely broadcast by the military. Rather, many interferences are often never seen, and take the form of cyberattacks, radio jamming or making military equipment harder to function, according to the 2020 Defense Space Strategy.
U.S. Space Command didn’t comment on whether a Russian attack has caused permanent damage to an American satellite in 2022 and said in an emailed statement that its satellite system “continues to perform as designed.”
There are fears that interference with American satellites would escalate if Russia does invade Ukraine, according to John Venable, a senior research fellow for defense policy at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.
“If they were to actually go into a military incursion into Ukraine, you would see those temporary effects go up by a large measure,” he said. “They have a sophisticated offensive capability in their space portfolio to jam sensors in space, and blind them.”
Venable added that a physical attack on American satellites would be “a bold and an unwise move” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A move that Harrison said might not make headlines.
“We may not know about it right away, and we may never know about it,” he said. “It could be very quiet and very behind the scenes with activities that aren’t known to the public.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Military.com)
15 Feb 22. Terran Orbital Announces a Record $170+m in New Contracts and Awards Since September 30, 2021. Terran Orbital Corporation (“Terran Orbital”), a leading vertically integrated provider of end-to-end satellite solutions, announced contracts and awards totaling over $170m since September 30, 2021. This includes multiple agreements and awards from several government and commercial customers.
“Terran Orbital is fortunate to enjoy unique relationships with leaders in the defense, civil, and commercial sectors,” said Marc Bell, Co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Terran Orbital. “Our team continues to focus on delivering the highest quality solutions at a compelling price. We are honored by the trust and partnership of our customers and look forward to delivering the capabilities they need.”
Terran Orbital has previously announced that it entered into a business combination agreement with Tailwind Two Acquisition Corp. (NYSE: TWNT), (“Tailwind Two”), a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), pursuant to which Terran Orbital will combine with Tailwind Two.
As always, government contracts and programs are subject to the availability of Congressional appropriations and authorizations, as well as the federal budget process. Accordingly, Terran Orbital may not predict if and when the anticipated revenue from these government programs and awards will be recognized.
In other news, Terran Orbital Corporation (“Terran Orbital,” or the “Company”), signed a 10-year lease for a 60,000 square-foot commercial facility in Irvine, California. The location of the facility is adjacent to the Company’s existing facility.
“Terran Orbital continues to expand our status as an industry leader by growing our portfolio of satellite production and assembly facilities,” said Terran Orbital Co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Marc Bell. “This is another in a long line of developments to maintain our leadership as a top small satellite manufacturer in the country.”
The new facility will focus on pure assembly and production. The facility will house staff and equipment beginning later this year.
“This latest expansion amplifies our ability to produce satellites at scale,” said William Beck, Terran Orbital Vice President of Infrastructure. “We look forward to helping produce the thousands of satellites expected to launch into orbit over the next 10 years.”
In September 2021, Terran Orbital announced it planned to build what the Company believes will be one of the largest satellite manufacturing complexes in the world in Brevard County, Florida. Once completed, it is expected that the 660,000 square-foot facility will create approximately 2,100 new jobs on Florida’s Space Coast.
Terran Orbital has previously announced it entered into a business combination agreement with Tailwind Two Acquisition Corp. (NYSE: TWNT), (“Tailwind Two”), a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), pursuant to which Terran Orbital will combine with Tailwind Two.
About Tailwind Two Acquisition Corp.
Tailwind Two is a blank check company “for founders, by founders” – formed for the purpose of effecting a merger, capital share exchange, asset acquisition, share purchase, reorganization, or similar business combination with one or more founder-led businesses in a sector being disrupted by technological change. Tailwind Two’s management team and directors have invested extensively in founder-run businesses, with notable success in the space industry. Tailwind Two is led by Chairman Philip Krim, and Co-Chief Executive Officers Chris Hollod and Matt Eby. In addition to the members of its management team and board of directors, Tailwind Two has assembled an Advisory Board that will help position Tailwind Two as the value-add partner of choice for today’s leading entrepreneurs.
About Terran Orbital
Terran Orbital Corporation is a leading vertically integrated provider of end-to-end satellite solutions. Terran Orbital combines satellite design, production, launch planning, mission operations and in-orbit support to meet the needs of the most demanding military, civil and commercial customers. In addition, Terran Orbital is developing the world’s largest, most advanced NextGen Earth Observation constellation to provide persistent, real-time earth imagery. Learn more at www.terranorbital.com. (Source: PR Newswire)
15 Feb 22. NASA Offers Up to $200m to Help Push New Technologies to Market. Companies with technologies that may advance exploration but need a little extra push to finalize development have two new opportunities to partner with NASA to make it over the finish line.
Through Tipping Point, NASA seeks to support space technologies that can foster the growth of commercial space capabilities and benefit future agency missions. NASA is also offering businesses a chance to work with agency experts or use facilities to complete their work through a separate Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity.
“NASA’s investment and support at this pivotal stage in development can be the key to ultimately bringing new technologies to market,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Public-private partnerships established through these opportunities will combine agency resources with industry contributions, a benefit that will unlock new ideas to advance how we live and work in space while providing greater value to the American people.”
These opportunities focus on technology development for space infrastructure and capabilities for the Moon and near-Earth space. Selected proposals for working on and near the Moon could include infrastructure for power distribution on the lunar surface, solutions for using lunar resources, or autonomous construction – key components for long-term lunar exploration under Artemis. NASA will also consider proposals for infrastructure and capabilities in Earth orbit – which could range from climate research tools to in-space manufacturing and advanced propulsion.
“Forging strong partnerships with the commercial space economy is critical for driving our nation’s space exploration further and faster,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA’s Headquarters in Washington, which manages the new opportunities. “I look forward to the new slate of public-private partnerships that will come from these new opportunities.”
Under the Tipping Point opportunity, NASA will award a total of up to $200m to multiple companies using funded Space Act Agreements. The opportunity also includes incentives for small businesses, allowing companies with fewer than 500 employees to contribute less to the cost of the technology development.
“A funded Space Act Agreement provides more flexibility for commercial partners in intellectual property, private sector contribution, and accounting requirements,” said LK Kubendran, STMD lead on Tipping Point and Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity.
More than half a billion dollars have been awarded to 50 projects since NASA announced the first Tipping Point opportunity in 2015. Space technologies advanced through this funding are now part of current and future mission plans. They include:
- Maxar’s Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot aboard NASA’s On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing Mission-1 mission will demonstrate in-space assembly to form a communications antenna following OSAM-1’s launch
- Tethers Unlimited’s Hydros thruster flew on NASA’s first Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator CubeSat mission to demonstrate the use of liquid water as fuel in space
- Two technologies will be aboard the second Intuitive Machines flight to the Moon under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative: Nokia of America Corporation’s lunar LTE/4G communications system and Intuitive Machines’ hopper robot
The Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity allows companies to use NASA facilities and expertise to aid in technology development without a monetary award.
More information about NASA’s technology investments is available online.
The deadline to submit initial proposals is March 31, 2022. Companies interested in submitting proposals can also attend an industry information session on Feb. 28. Details on the event are available online. Learn more and submit to the new opportunities at:
https://go.nasa.gov/3oIqzvJ (Source: PR Newswire)
15 Feb 22. EU lays out $6.8bn satellite communication plan in space race. The European Commission on Tuesday set out a 6bn-euro ($6.8bn) satellite communications plan, part of a push to cut the European Union’s dependence on foreign companies and protect key communications services and surveillance data against any outside interference.
The move comes amid growing concerns over Russian and Chinese military advances in outer space and a surge in satellite launches.
Commercial operators such a Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its Starlink network that aims to launch tens of thousands of satellites to supply global space-based wifi have also contributed to a fast-growing satellite population and resulting debris. read more
“Our new connectivity infrastructure will deliver high-speed internet access, serve as a back-up to our current internet infrastructure, increase our resilience and cyber security, and provide connectivity to the whole of Europe and Africa,” EU industry chief Thierry Breton said in a statement.
The EU proposal aims to build and operate a space-based state-of-the-art connectivity system, help to counter cyber and electromagnetic threats and improve the resilience of EU telecommunication infrastructures
The 6bn euro cost will be funded by a 2.4bn euro contribution from the EU from 2022 until 2027, the EU budget, EU countries, the European Space Agency and private investments. The EU aims to launch the programme next year. ($1 = 0.8808 euros) (Source: Reuters)
11 Feb 22. ESA Selects Payloads for Ariane 6 1st Flight. ESA in close collaboration with ArianeGroup and Arianespace has selected payloads which best fit the profile of the first mission of its new generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
This selection follows ESA’s announcement of opportunity in November 2021, which offered a launch to low Earth orbit for experiments up to a total mass of 80 kg and release of payloads with a combined mass of up to 800 kg. They will be hosted on a ‘mass dummy’ featuring a large platform, inside the 14 m long version of the fairing on an Ariane 6 fitted with two strap-on boosters (A62 version).
This demonstration flight will contribute to the qualification of the Ariane 6 launch system as part of the transition from its highly reliable and successful predecessor, Ariane 5. This launch is an important step in the preparation for future institutional missions planned for Ariane 6, such as Galileo.
For this flight, ESA is responsible for operations from the launch campaign to the payload separation, and then disposal of the upper stage through burn-up during reentry.
“I’m glad that ESA can use the very first Ariane 6 flight as a platform for launching these fantastic payloads, some of which will enable European start-ups to validate their systems and provide future commercial services. The Ariane 6 inaugural launch is a key step towards full qualification of the Ariane 6 launch system,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.
Experiments on board
Four experiments, ranging in mass from 0.15–12 kg, will be fixed to the platform on top of the mass dummy. These experiments will return valuable data up to the end of the mission when the upper stage reenters Earth’s atmosphere.
Two deployers will be arranged on board and will accommodate CubeSats. The RAMI deployer is built by Spain’s UARX Space, and the ExoPOD is built by ExoLaunch in Germany.
With some spaces for CubeSats still available, ESA may add to this collection closer to launch.
Ariane 6 is a modular launch vehicle using two or four P120C strap-on boosters to achieve the required performance. The reignitable Vinci engine powers the upper stage which allows Ariane 6 to reach a range of orbits to deliver more payloads on a single launch. The upper stage engine will typically burn one, two or more times to reach the required orbits. After payload separation a final burn deorbits the upper stage to mitigate space debris.
Ariane 6 is a project managed and funded by the European Space Agency. ArianeGroup is design authority and industrial prime contractor for the launcher system. The French space agency CNES is prime contractor for the development of the Ariane 6 launch base at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Arianespace is the launch service provider of Ariane 6. (Source: ASD Network)
14 Feb 22. Is Project Blackjack still relevant? Faced with duplication and delays, DARPA weighs how its proliferated satellite demonstration can still make an impact
Project Blackjack started as a bold idea. Instead of relying on a small handful of satellites operating 20,000 miles above Earth, what if the U.S. military could get the same, if not improved, capabilities by using hundreds of small satellites operating less than 1,000 miles up and connected by an orbital mesh network?
The military watched commercial space company SpaceX launch its first Starlink satellites in 2018, promising the low-latency connectivity of consumer broadband delivered to any point on the planet using a proliferated constellation of hundreds, or even thousands, of small satellites in low Earth orbit. These systems promise to make faster connections, bring space-based sensors thousands of miles closer to their targets and cut costs.
The U.S. military is already experimenting with those commercial networks for connectivity at its most hard to reach bases, such as in the Arctic. But Pentagon leadership also wanted a government owned space-based low-latency internet made of dozens of small satellites connecting sensors and weapons all over the globe, completely dedicated to military missions.
It was a potentially revolutionary concept, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the Pentagon’s organization devoted to solving the military’s most challenging technological issues — decided to take a stab at it. What emerged was Project Blackjack, an experiment of about 20 small satellites that could demonstrate the utility of a proliferated constellation to the military.
Since then, however, the situation has rapidly changed. Without waiting to see DARPA’s demonstration, the Defense Department bought into the proliferated LEO concept and established the Space Development Agency to set one up. And the newly minted U.S. Space Force has touted the need for a hybrid network, with capabilities spread out across multiple orbits — including LEO.
Project Blackjack’s first launch has now been pushed beyond the Space Development Agency’s first launch. While DARPA hoped to get its first satellites on orbit by the end of 2021, it’s now targeting October 2022. The Space Development Agency will launch its first satellites a month earlier.
It seems like the Pentagon has already adopted DARPA’s revolutionary concept and left its demonstration in the dust. Faced with duplication and delays, is Project Blackjack still relevant?
“That’s a question we wrestle with everyday, right? We always are evaluating — are we still relevant? — just like at every DARPA program. Are we hitting our technical milestones? Are the technical milestones still making an impact?” DARPA Project Manager Stephen Forbes said. “I think honestly the answer is ‘yes.’ ”
Project Blackjack may not have a direct impact on the first few batches of satellites launched by the Space Development Agency, but Forbes is confident his program will inform the military’s future proliferated LEO efforts. In the near-term, the agency’s risk reduction experiments have demonstrated critical technologies needed for an orbital mesh network, while its efforts to work through a contracted supply chain will help those who come after, said Forbes. And thanks to the SDA’s spiral development approach, the lessons learned from Project Blackjack could be incorporated in later tranches of satellites.
DARPA and the Space Development Agency
Like all DARPA projects, Blackjack was never supposed to be an operational platform. Rather, it’s an effort to develop and demonstrate new technologies for use by another agency or an armed service. Technology from successful DARPA programs can be used to launch or contribute to a program of record.
The path to an operational program for Project Blackjack, however, is muddied. The most obvious operational successor will be the Space Development Agency’s National Defense Space Architecture. But the timeline is inverted: The SDA will launch its first tranche of satellites before DARPA.
Project Blackjack will not directly affect that first batch of SDA satellites, but it could impact subsequent generations. That’s because SDA is using a spiral development approach, bolstering its constellation with new launches every two years. DARPA’s experiment could yield fruit for later tranches of satellites, likely those going into orbit in 2026 and 2028.
“We’re not directly changing what SDA is doing on tranche 0 or tranche 1, but as they move into their operational tranches, the lessons learned from Blackjack on command and control, data management, data processing at the edge, adding high-performance computing at the edge, all naturally allow them to roll in,” Forbes said.
Learning from experiments
More immediately, DARPA has partnered with the SDA and others to launch a handful of experimental satellites to reduce risk for Project Blackjack and other proliferated LEO constellations. Those satellites are testing out some of the core technologies needed to make an on-orbit mesh network work.
The first of these experiments — dubbed Mandrake I — launched in January 2021. That cubesat has already lived out its expectedly short life span, demonstrating high-end computing on orbit.
“That was very, very successful. It was something on the order of less than nine months from contracting to satellite on orbit. So a really accelerated turnaround, and all chips that were flown worked really, really well — far better than anticipated on orbit,” Forbes said. “We basically hit every one of our objectives that we wanted to with the vehicle.”
That risk-reduction experiment gave DARPA and its partners more confidence that they could depend on those chips for missions. Another experiment — Mandrake II — was supposed to go up simultaneously, but it was delayed six months due to an accident at the facility where it was to be integrated with the rocket. It eventually launched in June, placing the microsatellite in orbit where DARPA is using it to test out its optical laser communications concept that will enable the on-orbit mesh network.
“We’re still working through a lot of the issues on the laser platforms, and it’s fundamentally proving out that trying to start them early has burned down a lot of risk on the program,” Forbes said.
The Mandrake II experiment has experienced its share of issues, some of which Forbes blamed on the decision to rely on commercial off-the-shelf parts. The use of COTS parts was expected to lower the cost of the satellites and allow the government to build them faster.
“When you’re working with COTS, things will glitch and you have to fix them,” Forbes said.
The experiments were held back by the agency’s limited ability to downlink data, he added. It’s common to have a limited connection with an experiment like this, but it’s just one more factor dragging out the project’s timeline. For example, it may take only two hours to run an experiment on the satellites, said Forbes, but it may take a week to download all the data from that experiment.
“Now instead of running four tests a week, you’re running four tests a month,” he explained.
Despite the delays, the risk-reduction experiments have improved the main satellites, said Forbes. Based on lessons learned from Mandrake I, DARPA switched out the primary high-performance computing chips for ones better suited for the long-term space environment. DARPA also learned from other investments in radiation testing that some of the supporting electronics were unlikely to survive for a full two years on orbit, so those were also switched out.
The agency also changed out its laser acquisition software and made mechanical changes to the optical head based on lessons learned from Mandrake II. Smaller issues, such as the location of certain mounts on the bus, were not a huge impediment to launching a couple satellites, but would have become a bigger headache as the agency scaled up to its full constellation, said Forbes.
Supply chain shortages
One goal of Project Blackjack was to build the satellites with COTS parts, reducing costs and enabling faster builds by leveraging the commercial world. However, the COVID-19 pandemic harmed the supply chain in such a way that rendered many of the promised benefits moot.
“I’m not seeing the advantage I expected, but it’s not because of the choice. It’s because the supply chain has eliminated our ability to normally make the changes the commercial world would make. It doesn’t matter who you are; if you can only get one part, then you have to use that one part,” Forbes said.
For example, if one resistor supplier is facing a shortage, DARPA should be able to turn to another supplier. However, many resistor suppliers rely on a few common locations for parts. If one of those areas undergoes a four-week lockdown due to COVID-19, for example, that ripples through all of the suppliers, Forbes noted.
“A lot of that flexibility went out the window when the supply chain squeezed, and we ended up designing a lot to the supply chain — more so than we normally would,” he said, adding that the pandemic has stressed the supply chain for important subcomponents in very unique ways.
So instead of being able to fully focus on the technical aspects of Project Blackjack, Forbes’ team has to devote significant time and effort to getting necessary materials.
“I am so frustrated that I’m tracking capacitors and resistors and things like that,” said Forbes, adding that commodity items he could normally “buy by the reel for a penny a pop” are now difficult to obtain, which slows progress.
And with limited replacement options, not every hardware replacement is a like-for-like substitution that can be plugged into the end product.
The consequence? Software designed for a specific piece of hardware may not be perfectly compatible with a substitute, forcing software designers to scrap huge chunks of code and start over, said Forbes.
He said he hopes the current supply chain woes are temporary and that relying on COTS parts will prove beneficial. “It’s an opportunity that’s still waiting to be explored” once the supply chain normalizes.
As DARPA finishes experimenting on its risk-reduction satellites, it’s preparing to launch the first completed satellites of Project Blackjack.
“We’re in the throes of building hardware for our buses and our payloads,” Forbes said.
The first batch of satellites to go up in October will further prove out the on-orbit connections that are at the core of Project Blackjack and other orbital networks. DARPA will use those initial satellites to work through the bugs and kinks of its constellation, ensuring the second batch launched six months later will operate seamlessly.
And in April, the second batch of satellites will be delivered into orbit. Dropped off at 500 to 550 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, they’ll then climb to about 1,000 kilometers. That will take months.
“But once we’re there, we really want to demonstrate the ability of the satellites to share the data across them, work collaboratively along the missions, because that’s really what you have to do at LEO to provide the same sort of always-on capability that one would get from a [geostationary] satellite,” Forbes said.
“If we’re able to successfully do that, then we will be a very, very successful program and really help [Space Systems Command], SDA, [the Missile Defense Agency], whoever else wants to use proliferated LEO for their missions — really give them a solid foundation on which to build.”
07 Feb 22. A U.S. Manufacturing Facility To Be Established By TESAT-SPACECOM. Tesat-Spacecom (TESAT) is expanding its manufacturing footprint into the United States to support its U.S. government and commercial customers.
With more than 500,000 hours of operation and 10 Optical Communication Terminals (OCTs) in space, TESAT is the only provider worldwide for on-orbit-verified OCTs. TESAT is setting-up manufacturing operations in the U.S. to meet the growing demand for OCTs from the U.S. Government and the commercial space industry. TESAT is currently providing OCTs for four different U.S. spacecraft primes in support of the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) Transport Layer and Tracking Layer and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Blackjack program.
As the pioneer of optical communication technology in space, TESAT is working as an active member of the SDA interoperability working group. Its ConLCT80 is compliant to the current SDA OCT standard V3.0 and can be delivered off the shelf.
“We are in final negotiations for a facility in the U.S. up to 25,000 square feet and intend to start manufacturing our Optical Communications Terminals there in early 2023. Together with our established global supply chain we are well prepared for a production rate of 160 affordable constellation OCTs per month and are already designing the next generation of 100 Gpbs terminals,” said Matthias Motzigemba, Director of Laser Communication at TESAT. (Source: Satnews)
05 Feb 22. Commerce Department Inspector General Says NOAA Should Reassess Geostationary Satellite Launch Plans. The OIG recommends changes to NOAA GOES launch schedule/storage, and issued the following statement:
The Commerce Department Inspector General warned last week that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may be increasing risk in the development of its environmental satellites.
OIG auditors did not ask for a delay of GOES-T’s launch, they did ask NOAA to conduct an analysis of alternatives regarding whether to continue the GOES program’s approach of “managing schedules toward the earliest possible launch dates.” The OIG asked, for example, why the GOES program “made changes to the spacecraft propulsion system and test campaign” that ultimately “did not simulate a general mission profile from liftoff to orbit.”
“This means that the GOES-T satellite configuration that entered the testing phase was not the same configuration that will launch and fly on-orbit, which is a standard in the NOAA and NASA spaceflight- GOLD Rule to “test as you fly—fly as you test,” the audit states. “This rule holds that testing of all critical mission-operation elements (such as the propulsion system) as they will be flown greatly reduces the risk of negative impacts upon mission success, whether from partial or full loss of capability.”
NOAA/NESDIS agreed with all five recommendations from auditors, including that the agency conduct an analysis of alternatives regarding how to manage satellite launch schedules.
Summary of OIG Audit of NOAA GOES schedule, testing, and storage.
Redesigned GOES-T is Ready for Launch, but NOAA Should Reassess Its Assumptions for Satellite Launch Planning and Storage
WHAT WE FOUND
We found the following:
- The Program works toward the earliest achievable launch dates at
potentially increased development risk.
- NESDIS is planning GOES launches sooner than its policy requires
without analyzing the costs.
III. NESDIS assumes ground storage of satellites is not viable, but has not
formally studied tradeoffs.
WHAT WE RECOMMEND
We recommend that the NOAA Deputy Under Secretary for Operations
ensure that the Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information
Services do the following:
- Conduct an analysis of alternatives or similar assessment to
determine whether to continue the Program’s approach of managing
schedules toward the earliest possible launch dates.
- Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of selected geostationary coverage
availability thresholds, and update its geostationary launch policy as
- Determine the cost of operating spare satellites on orbit versus
alternative options, including consideration of constellation longevity
and satellite development risks, to help inform optimal acquisition and
- Assess the cost effectiveness of satellite ground and on-orbit storage
options using current cost, schedule, and technical performance data
that can inform NESDIS satellite storage decisions.
- On future satellite series, document storage option considerations
early in the acquisition process to optimize satellite storage
Link to complete OIG report : https://www.oig.doc.gov/Pages/Redesigned-GOES-T-is-Ready-for-Launch-but-NOAA-Should-Reassess-Its-Assumptions-for-Satellite-Launch-Planning-and-Storage.aspx
Note, the analysis was finished in later 2021, and at that time launch of GOES-T was scheduled for February 2022, which has since been moved to March 1, 2022. (Source: Satnews)
08 Feb 22. Dawn Aerospace Propulsion To Empower Pixxel’s Hyperspectral Imaging Smallsats. Dawn Aerospace is providing satellite propulsion to hyperspectral imaging company Pixxel, who is building a health monitor for the planet through a constellation of hyperspectral imaging small satellites.
Pixxel’s constellation will serve industries like agriculture, resources, energy, and sustainability, providing valuable insights into productivity and environmental management. Compared to standard multispectral imaging, Pixxel’s hyperspectral technology can obtain 50 times more information by capturing exact chemical signatures, offering more accurate solutions to previously unsolvable issues, and is available at a lower cost than existing technology. As a result, Pixxel’s hyperspectral imaging has the power to help with pressing issues, such as flagging pest infestations and crop diseases, tackling air and water pollution levels, and detecting oil spills and gas leaks.
Pixxel recently announced an early adoption partnership with global mining company Rio Tinto to leverage the highest resolution hyperspectral satellite imagery in Rio Tinto’s exploration activities. The global mining company plans to use this technology to reduce the disturbance footprint of exploration activities, monitor the operational and environmental performance of active mining operations, and monitor biodiversity and vegetation health around closed sites. Other Pixxel customers cover the mining, oil & gas and agriculture industries.
In the coming months, Pixxel’s first two satellites will launch, with plans to have a fully operational, hyperspectral constellation in space by December of 2023.
Dawn propulsion modules will enable Pixxel satellites to maneuver into their desired orbit post a rideshare-launch, allow for in-space management of the satellites and for deorbiting the satellites responsibly and the end of their life.
In the last 12 months, Dawn has had several propulsion systems launched to space, with a total of 21 thrusters, powering a variety of satellites, including cubesats and OTV’s. At the end of 2021, the company announced it had over one hundred of its 1N and 20N “green” thrusters in production, with this projected to triple over the next twelve months.
“We’re proud to use Dawn’s propulsion system on our mission to provide the world’s best hyperspectral Earth-imaging satellites,” said Awais Ahmed, co-founder and CEO of Pixxel. “Our goal is to launch a constellation that acts as a global health monitor for the planet. With Dawn’s help, we’re one step closer to achieving that to build a healthier planet.”
“Given the passion both Dawn and Pixxel share for using space for the greater good, we couldn’t be prouder to support this talented team,” said Stefan Powell, Dawn Co-founder & CEO. “We see low-cost, reliable propulsion systems as key in enabling the unprecedented insights space can offer us by looking back at Earth.” (Source: Satnews)
10 Feb 22. Defense Innovation Unit partners with Orbital Insight to take on satellite spoofing. The Pentagon’s innovation hub is working with industry to identify satellite spoofing operations using commercially available data.
Through a new program called Harmonious Rook, the Defense Innovation Unit has partnered with geospatial intelligence company Orbital Insight to develop a platform that can detect Global Navigation Satellite System spoofing. The company announced the contract in a Feb. 10 news release.
“Orbital Insight’s platform will leverage its multisensory data stack, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to alert analysts and operators to potential jamming and spoofing events, techniques commonly used by adversarial actors to cover up activities or sabotage operations,” the company said.
The Defense Department is not alone in its concerns about location data manipulation, as users around the globe are dependent on GNSS-based systems. However, spoofing can have significant national security implications and could impact missions highly reliant on positioning, navigation and timing capabilities.
The Pentagon has worked to make its GPS enterprise more resilient against spoofing, upgrading its satellites to broadcast jam-resistant M-Code signals and fielding modernized user devices and antennas that can receive those signals.
But the technology under development through Harmonious Rook focuses on detection and will combine geolocation data with advanced algorithms that can recognize spoofing-related anomalies.
“GNSS spoofing is essentially a data problem, and Orbital Insight’s AI and deep data stack can help identify spoofing, along with other major humanitarian and environmental challenges,” Orbital Insight CEO Kevin O’Brien said in the release. “This is a perfect example of private and public sectors uniting through technology.”
The company’s contract with DIU follows a recent award from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, through which it will build an artificial intelligence system using synthetic data to help the intel community develop machine-learning algorithms. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
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