As the space domain has become more congested, the potential for intentional and unintentional threats to space system assets has increased. Space is also becoming another domain of conflict due to enhanced militarization and weaponization of space. This is driving nations whose military is highly dependent on space to launch their military space strategy to protect their space based assets. China, Russia and the US have all tested weapons that are capable of taking out a satellite, according to research by the Secure World Foundation, which records military capabilities in space.
National Space Strategy
US launched a new National Space Strategy in March 23 2018 is intended to outline how the administration will protect American interests in space, fitting into a broader “America First” theme of policies by the current administration. The strategy features four “essential pillars” that constitute “a whole-of-government approach to United States leadership in space, in close partnership with the private sector and our allies,” according to the document.
Three of those pillars are related to national security activities in space, including a shift to more resilient space architectures, strengthening deterrence and warfighting options in space, and improving “foundational capabilities, structures, and processes” that include space situational awareness, intelligence and acquisition issues. “The strategy affirms that any harmful interference with or attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing,” the release states.
The fourth pillar of the document is devoted to developing “conducive” environments for working with commercial and international partners. “We will streamline regulatory frameworks, policies, and processes to better leverage and support U.S. commercial industry, and we will pursue bilateral and multilateral engagements to enable human exploration, promote burden sharing and marshal cooperative threat responses,” the release states.
One of the steps US took to implement its Space strategy was launching a new Pentagon command focused on warfare in space. Space Command was established on 29 August 2019, with a reemphasized focus on space as a war-fighting domain. Under Space Policy Directive 4, the role of the US space force will be to organise, train, and equip military space forces of the nation to operate in space and to perform offensive and defensive space operations, and joint operations in all domains.
During his speech at the White House signing ceremony Trump said: “We are investing in new space capabilities to project military power and safeguard our nation’s interests, especially when it comes to safety and defence. The primary aim of establishing a sixth armed service—the others being the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy—is to accelerate the development and deployment of new technologies for space warfighting, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters.
But the intent is not to militarize space; rather it is to avert a potentially disastrous conflict, said Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. If the United States leaves its satellites vulnerable to new Russian and Chinese weapons, the likelihood that these weapons will be used increases, he argued. The United States is probably the world leader in on-orbit proximity and rendezvous operations, he said, and there have been a lot of rumors about the U.S. considering developing more offensive capabilities to “defend” its satellites or take out Russian and Chinese satellites.
Kitay said the establishment of a U.S. Space Force as a separate military service is a major new development that has to be reflected in the DoD space strategy. The plan of action for space, he said, will build on the Trump administration’s 2018 national defense strategy that says DoD should prepare to face competition from rising military powers like China.
The commander of U.S. Space Command, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, was sworn in Jan. 2020 as the first chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force. Raymond said a key goal of the U.S. Space Force will be to deter a conflict from extending into space. China and Russia have embarked on ambitious programs to develop offensive space control capabilities, which prompted the United States to declare space a warfighting domain. “We want to deter conflict from happening,” he said Dec. 20 at the Pentagon. “The best way I know how to do that is from a position of strength.”
The NDAA created a Space Force within the Department of the Air Force, the same way the Marine Corps is a separate service within the Department of the Navy. But Congress set conditions. Out of concern about bureaucratic bloat, Congress established the Space Force by renaming the Air Force Space Command, directing the Defense Department to form the new branch with existing Air Force resources. The Space Force will be by far the smallest of the military services with a projected size of 16,000 people. By comparison the Marine Corps has about 180,000.
Raymond said a key goal of the U.S. Space Force will be to deter a conflict from extending into space. China and Russia have embarked on ambitious programs to develop offensive space control capabilities, which prompted the United States to declare space a warfighting domain. “We want to deter conflict from happening,” he said Dec. 20 at the Pentagon. “The best way I know how to do that is from a position of strength.”
The NDAA directs that the Space Development Agency, currently under the oversight of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, be moved to the Space Force by 2022. According to a draft proposal, one of the options being considered is to create a U.S. Space Force Systems Command to absorb the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and the SDA.
Space Development Agency
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has taken the lead in organizing the new “Space Development Agency (SDA),” which from all accounts seems like a mini-DARPA focused on space technology development. DARPA received its marching orders to establish the SDA from Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, who champions establishing this new agency. Griffin envisions the SDA as accelerating innovation in military space programs and bringing emerging technologies from the private sector into the Department of Defense (DoD).
The report said the job of the SDA will be to develop and field eight key capabilities. Together these capabilities comprise the “DoD Space Vision.” The eight capabilities:
* Persistent global surveillance for advanced missile targeting,
* Global and near-real time space situational awareness,
* Development of deterrent capability,
* Indications, warning, targeting and tracking for defense against advanced missile threats,
* Alternate positioning, navigation, and timing for a GPS-denied environment,
* Responsive, resilient, common ground-based space support infrastructure (e.g., ground stations and launch capability)
* Cross-domain, networked, node-independent battle management command, control and communications, including nuclear command, control, and communications,
* Highly-scaled, low-latency, persistent, artificial intelligence-enabled global surveillance
Griffin expects the study team to focus on the requirements for a Low Earth Orbit communications transport layer and explore the synergy of this essential backbone with the eight space capabilities outlined in the DoD Space Vision. The study team will also inventory DoD space-based command-and-control capabilities. It will identify critical gaps, deficiencies and inefficiencies in existing architectures and develop an agile responsive threat-driven architecture, associated infrastructure requirements and an acquisition construct.
The SDA was established in March 2019 to design the Department of Defense’s future threat-driven space architecture, a setup it has since defined as a multi-layered constellation of hundreds of small satellites providing several capabilities from LEO. The SDA will not be directly responsible for every layer or constellation within the architecture — most notably, the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor is being developed primarily by the Missile Defense Agency — however, the SDA will be the agency in charge of integrating those various efforts into a single architecture.
Key to the entire enterprise is the Tracking Layer, a family of satellites in low earth orbit that will facilitate the flow of data between satellites in orbit and between satellites and the ground. The Transport Layer will be essential in connecting the various sensors and capabilities on orbit with weapons systems on the ground or in the air.
The Pentagon wants to launch a small network of surveillance satellites high into orbit, where they would be able to spot and trace any acts of aggression in outer space. The three satellites, dreamed up by the Space Development Agency, would be able to autonomously navigate outside of geosynchronous orbit, where they would be able to peer down on any missiles or hostile satellites launched into space by other countries, according to C4ISRNET. While the satellites themselves wouldn’t be armed, the Pentagon hopes they would deter space warfare by making it harder for bad actors to get away with acts of aggression.
In an idealized scenario, the satellites would spot and approach a potentially-hostile satellite as it’s launched into space. They would then identify what country or agency had launched it and what it could be used for. With that evidence, the Pentagon would then be able to contact the country behind the launch or otherwise respond, hoping to deter future acts of aggression in space.
The Space Development Agency in 2020 acquired 28 satellites that it plans to launch in 2022. The 28 satellites in Tranche 0 include 20 for a Transport Layer of data-relay satellites and eight are for a missile-warning Tracking Layer. It is now preparing for its next big procurement of up to 150 satellites to be launched in late 2024. Tranche 1 is envisioned to have about 100 to 150 space vehicles, developed and manufactured by multiple vendors. The agency says it “significantly prefers comprehensive solutions that include open architectures,” meaning buses that support multiple payloads and software applications, and leverage commoditized satellite technologies.
The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency issued an open call for information from the space industry on a laundry list of technologies. The “broad area announcement” published Jan. 25 asks companies to submit pitches for space technology projects that the SDA might be interested in funding if they meet specific needs.
The SDA plans to make multiple contract awards based on the quality of the proposals. Submissions will be accepted until Jan. 24, 2022.
Some of the technologies on the SDA wish list include:
Miniaturized optical inter-satellite links for space-to-space, space-to-ground, and space-to-airborne communications.
Low-power antenna technologies for tactical data link connectivity with multiple users, especially in L-band.
Secure software defined radios compatible with multiple tactical data links.
Miniaturized, low-power NSA-approved Type I encryption
Positioning, navigation and timing capabilities for GPS-denied environments,
Wide-field-of-view overhead persistent infrared missile tracking sensor technologies, including focal plane arrays and processing techniques for operation in low-Earth orbit.
OPIR missile warning and tracking architectures with sensors of different sensitivities, operating in different infrared bands and deployed in different orbits.
Passive radio-frequency sensing and processing to enable spacecraft to gather intelligence from adversary emissions.
Automatic target recognition technologies to classify objects of interest using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Novel remote sensing phenomenologies for missile threat detection and tracking and surveillance of time critical targets.
Cyber security technology for the defense of space data networks.
National Defense Space Architecture
The overall goal of SDA’s National Defense Space Architecture is to enable resilient beyond-line-of-site targeting for time-sensitive ground and maritime targets, and to provide hypersonic/advanced missile threat warning and tracking, Tournear explained.
The emergence of hypersonic weapons over the last few years poses a problem to America’s missile warning systems. When viewed from space, the weapons appear 10 to 20 times dimmer than traditional ballistic missiles, making it harder for satellites in geosynchronous orbit to pick them up. Because the weapons are maneuverable, they can theoretically move to avoid ground-based sensors. It became clear that the U.S. needed a new constellation of space-based sensors that could detect and track the new threat.
The solution that emerged is both simple and complex. Instead of relying solely on the exquisite sensors more than 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, the military will build a proliferated constellation located much closer to the planet’s surface in low Earth orbit — less than 1,200 miles up. From that lower vantage, it is easier for infrared sensors to pick up the hypersonic weapons, track them as they move around the globe, and provide the targeting data to destroy them.
This tracking effort effectively has three parts:
A proliferated constellation with wide-field-of-view sensors in low Earth orbit that will pick up and track hypersonic weapons as they move around the globe.
A data transport layer of satellites to connect the sensors on orbit and pass tracking data as the threat moves in and out of view of individual sensors.
A smaller constellation with more sensitive, medium-field-of-view satellites that will provide the final targeting data to a fires solution.
The Space Development Agency is building those first two sections as part of its National Defense Space Architecture, a proliferated constellation in low Earth orbit that will eventually be made up of hundreds of satellites. The Missile Defense Agency will develop the medium-field-of-view satellites, known as the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, or HBTSS. Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is building Project Blackjack to demonstrate many of the technologies needed to make the entire system work.
It will provide a backup network to DoD’s current satellite constellations — for everything from military communications; to positioning, navigation and timing (PNT); to missile warning and tracking; and to imaging of targets on the ground by using a multitude of small satellites based in Low Earth Orbit (LEO, up to 2,000 kilometers in altitude.)
SDA developed the National Defense Space Architecture to “unify and integrate next generation capabilities across [the Department of Defense (DOD)] and industry.” The NDSA aims to be a “single, coherent proliferated space architecture with seven layers,” which include the data tracking and transport layers depicted in Figure and discussed below.
The Tracking Layer satellites are one of three sensing constellations included in SDA’s architecture, along with a “Custody Layer” of ISR satellites for detecting and tracking ground targets, and, eventually, a Deterrence Layer of space domain awareness satellites that could include a constellation monitoring cislunar space. Custody layer to support the targeting of mobile ground assets; the battle management layer to provide space-based command and control; the navigation layer to provide “alternate positioning, navigation, and timing for potential GPSdenied environments”; the deterrence layer to detect potentially hostile actions in deep space; and the support layer to facilitate satellite operations for the other NDSA layers.
Once fully fielded, as is planned by 2025, the NDSA would encompass 550 satellites and provide full global coverage.
SDA began the process of building the tracking layer—which is to “provide global indications, warning, tracking, and targeting of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems”—through the Tracking Phenomenology Experiment (TPE). The TPE objective is to
develop a missile sensor algorithm capable of tracking hypersonic weapons. In parallel, SDA plans to develop eight satellites as part of a Wide Field of View (WFOV) architecture. SDA then intends to expand this architecture to provide global coverage. SDA requested $72.4 million for TPE and related programs in FY2021.
Working in tandem with the SDA’s tracking satellites will be the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS), previously known as the space sensor layer, which is being developed by MDA and funded by SDA. HBTSS is to provide more sensitive, but more limited (or
Medium Field of View [MFOV]) coverage, compared to WFOV. For this reason, WFOV is intended to provide cueing data to HBTSS, which could then provide more specific, target quality data to a ground-based interceptor.
By 2023 SDA plans to expand the tracking layer to include 70 WFOV and MFOV satellites, which, according to SDA director Dr. Derek Tournear, “will give us enough coverage in low-Earth orbit so that we can have essentially regional persistence.” Section 1682 of the FY2020 NDAA (P.L. 116-92) tasks the director of the Missile Defense Agency to “develop a hypersonic and ballistic missile tracking space sensor
payload”; however, HBTSS was not funded in MDA’s FY2021 budget request due to “competing priorities.”
A US Missile Defence Agency report reveals it has placed an urgent call to its suppliers for improved sensors capable of detecting — and tracking — hypervelocity missiles in flight. It’s called for a new $9.9 billion budget for 2019. It recognises the urgent need to improve its defences against this emerging threat. Enormous nuclear-powered aircraft carriers suddenly seem vulnerable. Hypersonic missile requires persistent tracking and discrimination from space. This evolving threat demands a globally present and persistent space sensor network to track it from birth to death,” Missile Defense Agency Director of Operations Gary Pennett said.
Section 1645 of the FY2021 NDAA (P.L. 116-283) affirms the MDA director’s responsibility for the development and procurement of the sensor payload—in coordination with the director of SDA—“through, at minimum, fiscal year 2022 .” Section 1645 additionally requires that on-orbit testing of the sensor payload begin no later than December 31, 2023, and that integration of the sensor payload into the SDA’s broader space-based sensor architecture begin “as soon as technically feasible thereafter.” Overall, SDA requested $99 million in FY2021 to “develop and demonstrate a hypersonic tracking layer by FY2023.”
The missile warning/tracking satellites included in Tranche 1 will provide “detection of HGVs [hypersonic glide vehicles] and other advanced missile threats; targeting quality data; and communication directly with C2BMC,” Tournear’s charts show.
SDA in October awarded SpaceX $149 million and L3Harris $194 million to each build four satellites for the agency’s Tracking Layer Tranche 0. And the Missile Defense Agency awarded L3Harris and Northrop Grumman contracts to each develop a prototype satellite to carry the medium field of view Hypersonic and Ballistic Space Sensor (HBTSS) for the Tracking Layer. L3Harris’s contract worth $121 million was awarded on Jan. 14; and Northrop Grumman’s $155 million on Jan. 22. Those satellites also are all expected to be on orbit by 2023.
More immediately, SDA’s work this year and next will focus on the Tranche 0 demos of various capabilities for the Transport and Tracking Layers, as well as some ground system elements. There are four SDA-contracted on-orbit demos planned in the near term, he said:
Prototype Infrared Payload (PIRPL): a joint effort with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and being developed by Northrop Grumman, to develop a “medium field of view, multispectral imager for OPIR to be able to demonstrate the feasibility and use of that for some of our models.”
Mandrake II: a joint effort with DARPA and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to build two experimental satellites to “demonstrate optical cross links between two satellites, optical cross link to the ground, and optical cross links to airborne systems.” The two Mandrake II sats, built by Astro Digital and Photonics, are part of DARPA’s Blackjack program. They were supposed to fly on SpaceX’s Transporter 1 mission in January, but the sats were damaged in an accident at the launch facility; Tournear said they are now expected to launch in June.
Laser Interconnect and Networking Communication System (LINCS): two optical cross-link demo sats being developed by General Atomics.
XVI: an experimental satellite being developed by AFRL and Viasat, with SDA as a “transition partner,” to demonstrate connectivity with Link 16 on the ground.
In addition, Tournear said, SDA is working closely with DARPA on the overall Blackjack program, with DARPA planning to launch up to 18 demo sats, starting this year and running through 2022/2023.
Regarding the Custody Layer for ground targeting, Tournear explained that this will involve figuring out how to link existing satellites — both commercial imaging satellites and spy satellites operated by the NRO — into SDA’s Transport Layer. SDA has no plans to build its own imaging satellites, he said.
The Transport Layer constellation, which will comprise 300 to 500 satellites, is designed to form the “backbone” communications network that eventually all DoD command and control (C2) systems will link into, under a May 2020 order by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The aim of Esper’s mandate was to set up the SDA Transport Layer as a key space node to enable Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
More specifically, the Transport Layer is a “mesh network of hundreds of satellites, all optically interconnected, that provides a low-latency data comm network, and also provides connectivity directly down to existing tactical data links — notionally Link 16 — which is one of the tactical data links that the department uses to be able to talk to weapons systems,” Tourner told the symposium. “So, we’re not fielding new equipment to the user on the ground, we’re going over their existing tactical data links from that Transport Layer.”
“That’s the backbone. That’s how we tie everything together to make sure I can have high bandwidth, low-latency communication directly to the end user on the ground,” Tournear said. (Low latency means a minimum delay caused by the fact that satellites are far away from their ground receivers.)
When the Transport Layer Tranche 1 satellites are up and working, they will provide “low latency data connectivity; data directly to weapons; and data disseminated to the theater,” Tournear’s slides elaborated.
SDA has stated that the NDSA’s transport layer, which is intended to connect the tracking layer to interceptors and other weapons systems on the ground, will “enhance several mission areas including missile defense.” SDA has awarded two contracts to build a total of 20 satellites, which are to compose the initial tranche of the transport layer. SDA intends to field this initial tranche in FY2022, adding an additional tranche every two years
SDA awarded Lockheed Martin and newcomer York Space Systems contracts to build 10 data relay satellites each for the Transport Layer’s Tranche 0, to be orbited by 2023. Lockheed Martin’s contract is worth $187.5 million; York’s is worth $94 million.
Space force to integrate capabilities of commercial industry
At the moment, SDA is most interested in industry help to develop autonomous and real-time processing capabilities. “That’s a big deal … “We need a lot of algorithm development work to make sure that we can actually autonomously tip and queue,” he said, as well as to process and fuse data.
According to Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, the military space enterprise accounts for just 20 percent of the space investment currently going on in the United States. The 80 percent comes from commercial investment. A U.S. Space Force-sponsored study will look at the capabilities of commercial companies such as on-orbit satellite servicing. The study was commissioned in October to the RAND Corp., a federally funded nonprofit think tank. It will identify commercial space technologies that the Space Force could put into use as well as the potential risks of employing commercial systems during an armed conflict. According to a draft outline of the proposed study, RAND will examine multiple sectors of the commercial space industry, including satellite-based communications, remote sensing, launch, environmental monitoring, space situational awareness and on-orbit satellite servicing.
The study outline points out that the commercial space industry is innovating rapidly, creating opportunities for DoD to diversify the national security space architecture. It also cautions that “while commercial space capabilities could provide many benefits to DoD, incorporating them could also carry a set of risks that need to be better understood.” Among the potential risks are vulnerabilities of commercial satellites to cyber attacks and the potential for “denial of or limited access and service due to foreign government influence or business priorities.”
The U.S. Space Force is studying ways to connect legacy satellites with new systems such as those being developed by commercial companies and by the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency, so data can be shared across different satellite constellations. The Space Development Agency is building a mesh network in low-Earth orbit known as the Transport Layer. Lockheed Martin is one of the companies selected to provide satellites to the Space Development Agency. “We’ve got to find a way that we can put new technology up,” said Brown, without sacrificing capabilities that already exist.
Most satellites don’t speak with each other directly. Instead, they utilize radio-frequency communications with a ground station to relay communications between satellites. Some satellites, however, are able to use optical links to provide direct communications between satellites without a ground station acting as an intermediary. The SDA wants to use this technology for what it calls its “transport layer,” the backbone of its plans for a new space architecture in low earth orbit.
In August 2020, it was reported that the Space Development Agency has selected Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems to build the satellites for the first tranche of its transport layer ― an on-orbit mesh network that is key to the Pentagon’s plans to connect on orbit sensors with terrestrial shooters .
Each company will build 10 satellites for SDA, though at vastly different prices. While York Space Systems will receive $94 million to build its 10 satellites, Lockheed Martin will receive $188 million for the same number. According to SDA Director Derek Tournear, that difference reflects the agency’s firm-fixed-price contract approach to this solicitation, where they asked companies to give them a price point to meet SDA’s detailed specifications.
The satellites will comprise Tranche 0 of the agency’s planned transport layer, a constellation of satellites that can transfer data globally through optical intersatellite links. Tournear has previously noted the space-based mesh network will form the space component to the Defense Department’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control enterprise, or JADC2. Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX), Hawthorne, California, was awarded a $150,450,000 firm-fixed-price contract in Dec 2020 for launch services from Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Space Development Agency’s Tranche 0 Transport and Tracking Layer space vehicles.
Government services provider Perspecta Inc. has received an award to perform systems engineering and integration work for the newly established Space Development Agency. The single award indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract represents new work for the company and has a ceiling of $112 million with an ordering period of 5 years. Work on the program began in late October under an initial $17.8 million task order.
Perspecta is to deliver SE&I support for SDA’s initial satellite constellation known as Tranche 0, a system designed to demonstrate the initial capabilities of the National Defense Space Architecture. The agreement calls for Perspecta engineers and architects to develop infrastructure to ensure the NDSA Transport Layer, Tracking Layer and ground segment operate in unison to support warfighter mission scenarios and experiments.
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