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Ensuring Space Security: SSA, SDA, and Space Battle Management

Introduction:

In an era marked by the increasing militarization of outer space, the  United States Department of Defense (DOD) has embarked on an ambitious mission in recent years—to enhance its Space Situational Awareness (SSA), Space Domain Awareness (SDA), and Space Battle Management capabilities.  With several nations developing anti-satellite weapons and killer microsatellites, safeguarding space assets is now paramount. This article explores the evolving landscape of SSA, SDA, and Space Battle Management and their significance in the context of emerging space warfare.

The Growing Space Challenge:

There has been an exponential growth of space objects, including orbital debris that has increased the in-orbit collision risk. NASA estimates there are 21,000 objects orbiting Earth that are larger than 10 cm, 500,000 between 1 and 10 cm, and more than 100 million that are less than 1 cm. The large number of debris around Earth is a risk for the safety of operational satellites. Any of debris objects can cause harm to an operational spacecraft, where a collision with a 10-cm object could entail a catastrophic fragmentation, a 1-cm object will most likely disable a spacecraft and penetrate the satellite shields, and a 1-mm object could destroy sub-systems on board a spacecraft.

Space, once seen as a peaceful domain for exploration and communication, is now witnessing the development of technologies with the potential to disrupt and damage satellites. Countries like China have been actively pursuing counter-space capabilities, including directed-energy weapons and satellite jammers. With eight anti-satellite tests conducted since 2005, China has demonstrated its growing capabilities. Russia is also a cause for concern, as it engages in maneuvers that raise suspicions about its intentions.

Rising Space Threats

Space is becoming increasingly militarized many countries are developing killer microsatellites and other antisatellite weapons (ASAT) that could be used to damage other satellites.  One emerging trend in space warfare is the development of space robots. These robotic systems can perform satellite repairs and even deorbit adversary satellites, marking a significant shift in the dynamics of space conflict. As a result, the need for complete awareness of adversary activities in space has become more critical, enabling rapid responses and counteractions.

Space as a Domain of Warfare:

Recognizing the evolving threat landscape, the U.S. military has redefined its posture toward space. Space is now considered a domain of warfare, similar to land, air, and sea. President Donald Trump even proposed the establishment of a “space force” to accelerate the development and deployment of space warfighting technologies. This paradigm shift reflects the growing importance of space in modern military operations.

Advancing Space Security:

The U.S. DOD has embarked on various programs to enhance space security, including the development of microsatellites for satellite maintenance, upgrading, and resupply. The use of highly capable robotics for satellite manipulation and assembly in orbit is another significant advancement. This approach enables the construction of large space structures and multifunctional space system components in space itself. The DoD plans automated on-orbit construction of large structures while perfecting additive manufacturing for on-orbit assembly.

These initiatives demonstrate the DoD’s commitment to enhancing space capabilities, improving mission flexibility, and reducing launch costs, ultimately reinforcing the nation’s position in space operations and security.

Space Protection Programs:

To counter the evolving space capabilities of adversaries, the DOD has launched space protection programs. These programs aim to identify, attribute, and negate potential threats in space. With a focus on real-time space object tracking, the Space Fence radar and upgrades to the Joint Space Operations Center are essential components of these efforts.

Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Domain Awareness (SDA):

SSA and SDA are the cornerstones of space security. SSA involves tracking and understanding space objects and their behavior, while SDA expands this concept to include the intentions and capabilities of potential adversaries. Comprehensive SSA and SDA require a network of sensors, radars, and data integration systems to provide a clear picture of the space environment.

Space Situational Awareness (SSA):

SSA involves monitoring and understanding the activities in Earth’s orbit to ensure the safe and effective use of space. This crucial aspect of space warfare includes:

  1. Space Object Detection: SSA systems employ ground-based and space-based sensors to track thousands of active satellites, debris, and potentially threatening objects in near-real time.
  2. Collision Avoidance: SSA data helps satellite operators avoid collisions by predicting potential close encounters and providing course correction recommendations.
  3. Space Traffic Management: SSA facilitates the coordination of space activities and reduces the risk of on-orbit collisions, safeguarding valuable assets.

Space Domain Awareness (SDA):

SDA expands SSA to encompass a more comprehensive understanding of the space environment, including the intentions and capabilities of potential adversaries. Key components of SDA include:

  • Detect, Track, and Identify: Search, discover, and track space objects, and monitor events to distinguish between objects and their type and use;
  • Characterize: Determine strategy, tactics, intent, and activity—including characteristics, operating parameters and threats—of space objects;
  • Threat Warning and Assessment: Predict and differentiate between potential or actual attacks on or from space objects; predict space weather and space system anomalies and their potential impact; provide timely status of forces; and
  • Data Integration and Exploitation: Correlate and integrate multi-source data into a single common operating picture; provide decision-level SSA information to the combatant commands.
  1. Foreign Object Tracking: DOD invests in advanced technologies to identify and monitor foreign objects in space, especially those exhibiting unusual behavior or potential threats.
  2. Behavioral Analysis: SDA includes analyzing the actions of satellites, such as unusual maneuvers or proximity operations, to discern potential hostile intent.
  3. Secure Communication: Establishing secure communication links with U.S. space assets ensures timely responses to emerging threats and facilitates coordination with international partners.

Space Battle Management:

SSA sensors have long operated in a relatively static tasking construct, without detailed intelligence, to give operators understanding of why they are tasked against a particular object. With proper understanding of an adversary’s satellite characteristics and capabilities, operators achieve better mission planning to engage their weapon system in characterizing, recognizing, and responding to various space threats. Being engaged also motivates and inspires operators to come up with better solutions to tactical problems.

Sensors need flexible tasking that provides the operator with the freedom to decide how to best employ their weapons system. Tasking orders need to clearly state the desired effect or objective. For example, the objective may be that an area near a high value asset needs to be cleared. Clearing is when all objects in an area of space are determined to be known. With a complete understanding of the problem set, operators can be empowered to help solve it.

Integration and working relationships between different sensor platforms optimizes Space Battle Management. Different sensors may complement each other and hand-off important target data. Combining information from several sensors enables command and control centers to make better decisions. For example, if an uncorrelated target is found by a ground-based radar, Ground Based-Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance, GEODSS, could follow up on the targets and provide additional data. Hand-offs between electro-optical sensors, radars, and on orbit platforms can ensure high priority targets aren’t lost.

 

Space Battle Management is the culmination of SSA and SDA efforts, focusing on effectively managing the space environment in the face of potential adversarial actions. This involves:

  1. Rapid Decision-Making: DOD aims to develop decision-making processes and technologies that enable quick responses to emerging threats, potentially involving satellite repositioning or countermeasures.
  2. Deterrence: A strong SDA and SSA capability, coupled with the ability to respond to threats, serves as a deterrent against hostile actions in space.
  3. International Cooperation: As space activities become more intertwined, the DOD seeks to collaborate with international partners to enhance space security and stability.

Unified Data Library:

To address the historical issue of data silos, the DOD is developing the Unified Data Library (UDL), a scalable space situational awareness repository stored in the cloud. The UDL will fuse data from various sensors and provide a single portal for users to access a comprehensive dataset.

Emerging Technologies:

To achieve its goals in SSA, SDA, and Space Battle Management, the DOD is investing in cutting-edge technologies such as:

  1. Advanced Sensors: Enhanced sensor capabilities, including space-based assets, offer improved detection and tracking of objects in orbit.
  2. Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI-driven analytics help process vast amounts of data, identify anomalies, and predict potential threats.
  3. Cybersecurity: Protecting space assets from cyber threats is critical, and the DOD is developing robust cybersecurity measures.
  4. Autonomous Systems: Autonomous satellites and decision-making systems can respond rapidly to emerging threats.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality-Based Visualization Tools

These tools, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) solutions, aim to enhance military space operators’ understanding and awareness of satellites and objects in space. The competition seeks to augment existing capabilities with visualization tools that enable operators to intuitively absorb and navigate vast amounts of space object data. These tools will use existing data to display and process information, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the space environment and facilitating rapid comprehension of changes. This initiative is crucial for space operators who must process and interpret information swiftly in this rapidly evolving and dynamic domain.

Predictive AI-Based Space Situational Awareness

The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has taken a significant step forward by awarding a contract to Slingshot Aerospace to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) solution for next-generation space situational awareness and enterprise space battle management. Under this $6 million contract, Slingshot Aerospace will prototype and deploy machine learning capabilities to enhance space battle management. The Orbital Atlas toolset, developed by Slingshot Aerospace, will offer predictive space situational awareness, going beyond traditional space catalogue maintenance. Using a predictive modeling engine and machine learning, it characterizes patterns and predicts events, empowering troops, analysts, and decision-makers to respond swiftly and make informed decisions. Future plans involve equipping Orbital Atlas with geospatial intelligence to provide information about ground events, such as missile launches.

Space force initiatives on SSA, SDA, and Space Battle Management

The U.S. Space Force has been actively pursuing various initiatives related to Space Situational Awareness (SSA), Space Domain Awareness (SDA), and Space Battle Management. These initiatives reflect the evolving nature of space operations and the need to enhance our capabilities in these critical areas. Below are some recent developments in each of these domains:

Space Situational Awareness (SSA):

  1. Space Fence Radar: The Space Force has deployed the Space Fence radar system, which became fully operational in 2020. This advanced radar system significantly enhances the tracking and monitoring of objects in low Earth orbit, helping to improve SSA capabilities and reduce the risk of collisions and space debris.
  2. Commercial Data Partnerships: The Space Force has been exploring partnerships with commercial satellite operators to leverage their data for SSA purposes. These partnerships involve sharing data on the positions and trajectories of satellites and space debris, enhancing the overall SSA picture.

Space Domain Awareness (SDA):

  1. Space Surveillance Telescope (SST): The Space Force has been working on the Space Surveillance Telescope, which is designed to detect and track smaller objects in geosynchronous orbit. SST provides a more comprehensive view of objects in this critical orbital region.
  2. Commercial and International Collaboration: Collaboration with international partners and commercial entities is a key aspect of SDA efforts. Sharing data and resources with allies and commercial operators helps improve space domain awareness and enhances the ability to detect and respond to potential threats.

Space Battle Management:

  1. Enterprise Space Battle Management Command and Control (ESBMC2): As mentioned in the previous response, the Space Force has been developing the ESBMC2 system. This system is focused on enhancing command and control capabilities for space assets during conflict situations, integrating data from various sources to provide a more comprehensive and responsive battle management system.
  2. AI and Machine Learning: The Space Force is increasingly incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into its space battle management systems. These technologies enable predictive analytics and faster decision-making, crucial in a contested space environment.
  3. Visualization Tools: Initiatives to develop visualization tools, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), are ongoing. These tools aim to provide space operators with intuitive and comprehensive views of the space environment, enabling quicker comprehension of changes and facilitating rapid decision-making.
  4. Training and Education: The Space Force is investing in training and education programs to ensure its personnel are well-equipped to manage space battles effectively. These programs include scenario-based training and exercises to prepare for a range of space conflict situations.

Conclusion:

As space activities continue to evolve and expand, safeguarding vital space assets and maintaining peace and stability in this crucial domain will be paramount. As space becomes more crowded and the threats to space assets grow, SSA, SDA, and Space Battle Management have become indispensable elements of modern warfare. The United States, recognizing the need to protect its space assets, has embarked on numerous initiatives and programs to enhance its capabilities. By leveraging advanced technologies and fostering international cooperation, the U.S. aims to ensure the secure and sustainable use of outer space, maintaining its position as a leader in space security.

 

 

 

 

US GAO characterizes 4 facets of space situational awareness (SSA)

According to US DOD, their space assets have come under risk, due to activities of adversaries that can degrade, deny or disrupt their ability to operate in space. To mitigate these threats, the Department of Defense (DOD) undertook a variety of initiatives to enhance its Space situational awareness (SSA)—the current and predictive knowledge and characterization of space objects and the operational environment upon which space operations depend. which entails keeping track of all  and understanding how the space picture is changing over time.

 

Therefore Air Force Space Command has proposed   Space Domain Awareness, SDA as the new term for what used to be SSA, or Space Situational Awareness. “The implication of space as a warfighting domain demands we shift our focus beyond the Space Situational Awareness mindset of a benign environment to achieve a more effective and comprehensive SDA, much the way the Navy works to achieve maritime domain awareness in support of naval operations and the Air Force strives for maximum air domain awareness to achieve air superiority,” Air Force Space Command’s deputy commander Maj. Gen. John Shaw stated in a memo.

 

 

 

The U.S. government, primarily the Department of Defense, plans to spend some $6 billion on efforts to monitor the space environment in real time through 2020, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

 

 

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://spacenews.com/air-force-ssa-is-no-more-its-space-domain-awareness/

https://breakingdefense.com/2019/09/new-space-bmc2-system-to-debut-at-corona-raymond/

 

 

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