Tag Archive for: DoD

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is planning to launch 72 data-transport satellites in 2026, which will be part of the Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta portion of a United States military mesh network. According to Frank Turner, SDA’s technical director, these satellites will have new and advanced capabilities, including direct-to-weapon communications. This represents a significant step forward in the development of military satellite technology.

The Tranche 2 Beta satellite order worth $1.5 billion was split between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, both of which had previously been awarded contracts for Tranche 1 Transport Layer satellites. SDA, an organization under the U.S. Space Force, is working on creating a mesh network of military satellites in low Earth orbit known as the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. This network includes both a data transport layer and a missile-tracking sensor layer.

During the contract award process for Tranche 2 Beta, SDA received six bids. Turner mentioned that the agency would have preferred to involve more vendors, but the complexity of the mission and the specialized requirements, such as the need for advanced radios and waveforms for military tactical communications, limited their options. As a result, the selection of experienced Department of Defense (DoD) contractors was necessary.

SDA has expressed a desire to collaborate with a broader base of prime contractors and avoid favoring incumbents. However, due to the unique and complex nature of the payloads in Tranche 2 Beta, only a few companies in the industry possess the capabilities to meet these specific mission requirements.

The Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta satellites are designed to integrate with radios using Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and S-band frequencies, which are essential for military and intelligence operations in the field. Additionally, each satellite is equipped with an Integrated Broadcast Service (IBS) payload. IBS is a legacy Department of Defense (DoD) network used to transmit tactical and strategic intelligence as well as targeting data from various sources. Typically, IBS payloads operate from geosynchronous satellites like the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), which was developed by Lockheed Martin.

However, the challenge for the Transport Layer, according to Frank Turner of SDA, is to provide the same IBS service from low Earth orbit, which has never been attempted before. This is a complex task that involves developing the necessary technology and infrastructure to facilitate these communications from satellites in low Earth orbit, rather than the traditional geosynchronous orbit. Turner emphasized that this is a significant and challenging endeavor.

The primary goal of these capabilities is to fulfill the requirements and requests of the warfighter. They are looking for direct-to-weapon connectivity that can enable real-time engagements and communication with various assets in the field.

Furthermore, the Beta satellites will be tasked with establishing what Turner described as “extremely difficult” contacts with aircraft and missiles in flight. This indicates that the mission involves not only providing data connectivity but also facilitating real-time, dynamic communication and coordination with moving targets in the sky, adding an additional layer of complexity to the mission.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is taking a commercial-like approach to build the Department of Defense’s (DoD) mesh network. This approach involves collaborating with a broad array of suppliers specializing in small satellites and laser communications terminals. SDA aims to create a flexible and diverse ecosystem of partners to meet its evolving satellite communication needs.

Frank Turner explained that the decision to choose two incumbent providers for Tranche 2 Beta was not taken lightly and was the result of extensive deliberation. SDA’s preference is to expand its supplier base and work with a wider range of contractors in the future.

SDA is actively engaging in discussions with military leaders to determine the necessary capabilities for Tranche 3 of the Transport Layer. This indicates the agency’s commitment to continually adapting and enhancing its satellite network to meet evolving defense requirements.

Currently, SDA is preparing for the launch of its second batch of Tranche 0 satellites and plans to commence launching 126 Tranche 1 satellites in September 2024. These Tranche 1 satellites will be equipped with inter-satellite optical links and are considered the infrastructure of the network. Tranche 2, which follows, will enable the network to support advanced communications capabilities, marking a significant milestone in SDA’s mission to create a robust and effective satellite communication system for the DoD.

Digital twins have gained significant attention in the space industry as a promising technology for designing complex satellite networks. Although the technology is still evolving, companies specializing in this sector are witnessing an increasing demand for digital engineering tools.

Sedaro, a startup based in Arlington, Virginia, is among the companies at the forefront of developing digital engineering software specifically for space systems. Founded in 2016, Sedaro has received approximately $3 million in small business research awards from the Defense Department and NASA. The company has also attracted venture capital funding.

According to Robbie Robertson, the co-founder and CEO of Sedaro, the scale and complexity of satellite constellations make digital twins a necessity. However, he noted that in some cases, legacy digital design tools have been rebranded as digital twins, causing confusion, especially in military programs. Robertson emphasized the potential of digital twins to manage complexity in the planning and design of large satellite constellations, enabling a level of management that surpasses human capabilities.

The adoption of digital twins is gaining momentum in military satellite programs as the Department of Defense (DoD) plans for the next generation of space systems. Sedaro’s digital engineering software has found utility in the Pentagon’s requirements organization, which is responsible for overseeing major systems acquisitions. By employing a digital twin of a missile-tracking satellite network, decision-makers can fine-tune requirements before procuring the actual satellites.

Additionally, the U.S. Space Force is utilizing a digital twin to facilitate the planning of an experiment called Tetra 5, which aims to refuel satellites in orbit. In this case, the program necessitates the delivery of a digital twin alongside the physical system, showcasing the importance of incorporating digital twins in space-related initiatives.

Istari, a digital engineering startup, has gained the attention of military space programs with its innovative approach. The company is backed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and led by former Pentagon procurement official Will Roper. Roper believes that the development of military aircraft, satellites, and other systems could be accelerated and made more cost-effective by utilizing modeling and simulation for design, testing, and certification processes.

Currently, the lack of integration among various models and simulations used by different contractors in military procurement programs hinders efficiency. Istari aims to address this challenge by offering an AI platform that serves as a common operating system for models and simulations. This approach allows for seamless integration and interoperability, enabling any model to be utilized regardless of its ownership.

The Space Force stands to benefit greatly from this technology. For instance, satellite operators and engineers would be able to train on the same model, creating a true digital thread. This would enable engineers to continually update and improve their designs with real-time data from users, fostering a more efficient and collaborative design process.

Robbie Robertson emphasizes the importance of clarifying the concept of digital twins to customers who may be overwhelmed by the marketing buzzwords and varying definitions. He defines a digital twin as a high-fidelity virtual representation of a physical system that remains synchronized with its real-world counterpart throughout its entire lifecycle.

Sedaro, recognizing the skepticism surrounding digital engineering, launched an updated version of its cloud-based digital engineering tool in April. The company aims to demonstrate that digital engineering is not merely an overhyped trend but a valuable technology with practical applications.

Robertson acknowledges that many people have been disappointed with the current state of digital engineering for space systems. This disappointment stems from the lack of significant improvements in the complexity and quality of hardware technologies enabled by software tools.

In the realm of DoD satellite programs, a combination of in-house and outdated commercial software products has traditionally been used to develop digital twins. However, these legacy technologies are ill-equipped to handle the scale and complexity of future military satellite constellations, including those planned by the Space Development Agency for low Earth orbit architecture.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is requesting digital representations of communications satellites from contractors in its latest solicitation. While the agency has not explicitly called for digital twins, Robertson notes that they are moving in that direction. The concept of digital twins can be customized to meet the specific needs and goals of each organization.

Robertson believes that the most exciting future application of digital twins for the Department of Defense (DoD) is to have digital twins of operational satellites. Traditionally, engineering simulations are seen as design tools used before the physical system is created. However, the primary use of digital twins will be in operations, where they can simulate systems at a high fidelity to optimize their utilization, identify vulnerabilities from a military perspective, and enable predictive maintenance. This aligns with the widespread use of digital twins in other industries.

Air Force will review concerns expressed by the DoD IG and GAO about the basing selection process, before making the final decision.

A draft environmental assessment released July 13 by the Department of the Air Force said the proposed relocation of U.S. Space Command to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, would have “no significant impacts on the human or natural environment.”

The Air Force also conducted environmental assessments of five other locations considered “reasonable alternatives” — Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Port San Antonio, Texas; and Space Coast Spaceport, Florida. No environmental impacts were found at any of these other locations.  U.S. Space Command is currently based at Peterson. 

These reviews are required by the National Environmental Policy Act. After the release of the draft document there is a 30-day public comment period. The final environmental assessment will take into account comments received before making a final basing decision for the command’s headquarters. 

Space Command is responsible for providing satellite-based services to the U.S. military and for protecting those assets from foreign threats. 

The January 2021 selection of Redstone Arsenal as the preferred location for U.S. Space Command headquarters has been challenged by Colorado lawmakers. The decision process has been reviewed by the Department of Defense Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office.

Before the Secretary of the Air Force makes its final decision, the department said it will review concerns expressed by the DoD IG and GAO that the selection process did not adequately consider how long it would take for Space Command headquarters to reach “full operational capability” once it relocates.

Other issues that will be looked at before the final decision is made are the analysis criteria for “childcare, housing affordability and access to military/veteran support, to verify that identification of the preferred alternative was supported,” the Air Force said July 13.

Colorado lawmakers allege that former president Trump improperly influenced the decision and that the Air Force’s basing process did not properly take into account senior military officials’ concerns that the relocation would add years to Space Command efforts to reach full operational capacity as soon as possible. 

Approximately 1,450 personnel would be assigned to the proposed U.S. Space Command headquarters facility, Support contractors and other partners would be co-located, so the environment review assessed the impact of 1,800 personnel.

The proposed headquarters would consist of approximately 464,000 square feet of office space and approximately 402,000 square feet of vehicle parking.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said the Air Force draft review is a “welcomed result.”

“I look forward to the conclusion of the comment period and doing what I can to support Space Command as it makes Huntsville its new home,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Michael Bennet in a statement said Colorado is the “rightful home for U.S Space Command, especially given Peterson’s unique ability to reach full operational capability faster than other candidate bases. I will continue to work with  Coloradans to express ongoing concerns about the Trump Administration’s flawed decision.”

The Office of Space Commerce is expected to start developing an architecture for space traffic management, an initiative that has been bogged down by studies and lack of funding. That’s what Chirag Parikh, executive secretary of the National Space Council is expecting.

Further into that, he added: ‘What we’ve done is we’re putting our money where our mouth is.’

“We were very happy that we were able to get Richard DalBello in that position of leadership to run the Office of Space Commerce,” Parikh said July 13 at a conference on Capitol Hill hosted by the Future Space Leaders Foundation.

DalBello, a space industry veteran and former government official, was named to the top job at the Office of Space Commerce in late April. The post had been vacant since January 2021. 

“He’s working very closely with the Department of Defense right now, with the Space Force as well as U.S. Space Command, to be able to develop that linkage, to be able to transition that mission from the Department of Defense over to Commerce,” Parikh said. 

The Office of Space Commerce is charged with implementing Space Policy Directive 3, a four-year-old policy that directs the Commerce Department to take over civil space traffic management responsibilities currently handled by DoD. That includes providing warnings to satellite operators of potential close approaches between their satellites and other space objects.

Parikh said the space traffic management effort has moved at a slow pace due to lack of funding as well as “all the studies and then the change of leadership along the way.”

The future is brighter now with more funding on the way. “What we’ve done is we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” he said. “In the president’s fiscal year 2023 budget, we have almost 8x the budget so we can now start building the investments and the architecture and infrastructure.”

The Biden administration requested $87.8 million for the Office of Space Commerce for 2023 — an 800% increase over the previous budget.

“So they are now starting to go through the architectural reviews and how to be able to build out a prototyping capability, and partner with the commercial sector to be able to leverage that as much as we can,” said Parikh. 

The Commerce Department in February unveiled an early prototype for a space catalog and traffic software platform that would provide basic situational awareness and traffic management services.

Transitioning these prototypes to operational systems is a top priority for the commercial space industry. 

“The anticipated proliferation of both spacecraft and orbital debris will likely drive further hazards and illustrates the need for a comprehensive approach to manage space traffic and ensure the sustainable growth of commercial space,” Boston Consulting Group analysts wrote in a recent op-ed.  “Protecting the growth of the space economy and preserving access to space for all entrants — commercial and government — can only occur if technologies for collision risk mitigation and maneuverability are further developed.”

Parikh said the Biden administration and allied countries continue to have conversations about this issue as orbits become more congested, creating growing risks to space activities.  

“We start thinking about large constellations of satellites and how they all coexist together. Who tracks what? Who notifies people to move left? Who moves right?” Parikh said. “These are hard problems and we are working across departments and agencies to be able to figure these elements out.”