In February 2010, a EUR 280 million contract launched the Athena-Fidus (Access on THeatres for European allied forces NAtions-French Italian Dual Use Satellite) satellite program. The program is similar to the concept behind the US/Australian WGS, aiming to complement hardened satellite systems with a non-hardened broadband system. The satellite was launched in 2014.
France’s recent scramble to find the satellite bandwidth required to operate its Heron/Harfang UAVs in Afghanistan illustrates the project’s immediate military relevance. Once operational, the Athena-Fidus system will be used by the French, Belgian and Italian armed forces, as well as the civil protection services of France and Italy.
Long-endurance UAVs like the MQ-9 Reaper may be able to take off using line-of-sight controls, but many of their missions depend on satellite bandwidth at some point. Those satellite bandwidth expenses add up, as militaries are forced to supplement their own constellations with commercial providers. The USAF thinks they’ve found a way to cut those costs, without adding to the load on military constellations.
Europe has a number of military satellite programs underway at the moment, but cooperation has been mostly haphazard and bilateral. Hence the ideal of MUSIS, a Multinational Space-Based Imagery System that would bring future sets of optical and radar imaging satellites under a common ground infrastructure, combining national or bilateral programs with interoperability that would allow these nations to make better use of their limited space surveillance resources.
So far, MUSIS remains more of an aspiration, though satellite components have been contracted. If it works, the overall MUSIS constellation will replace a number of previous platforms: France’s Helios 2, Germany’s Sar-Lupe radar satellite; and the ORFEO cooperative program that includes both France’s dual-use Pleiades optical satellites, and Italy’s dual-use COSMO-SkyMed X-band radar observation satellites. Participants would include Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain.
In physics, a moire pattern is an interference pattern created when two grids are overlaid at an angle, or when they have slightly different mesh sizes. It’s an appropriate name for DARPA’s Membrane Optic Imager Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) project, which aims to use diffractive optic membranes to conduct tactical video surveillance from space. That’s very useful when looking at territory where an intruding UAV is likely to be shot down, or when conducting operations to find, say, mobile SCUD missiles within a large potential area.
Making that happen involves a 20-meter diameter optic membrane surveying an area of more than 10 x 10 km at least once a second, with ground resolution better than 2.5 meters, and the ability to detect moving vehicles. Field of regard would be larger, of course, at 10 million square kilometers that could be covered from geosynchronous orbit. Finally, all of this has to cost less than $500 million per copy. How hard could all that be? Hard enough for DARPA, apparently…
Pentagon contracts occasionally refer to the Global Broadcast Services (GBS), a system linked to the Wideband SATCOM program. A variant was first fielded in Bosnia during 1996, and special nodes were also set up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It sounds almost like a form of global satellite TV – which is close, but not quite right. GBS is not intended to replace existing MILSATCOM (MILitary SATellite COMmunications) systems in any way. Instead, GBS uses a form of “push and store” to distribute high-bandwidth information for local relay, thereby saving critical two-way military satellite communications systems from having to handle every field request.
The other thing that makes GBS so attractive is the ability to provide high-volume data directly into 18-inch antennas, allowing streaming to and storage in devices that can move with units in the field. The GBS “pushes” a high volume of packaged data to these widely dispersed, low-cost receive terminals, whose function resembles the set-top smart cable TV storage box or TiVO used at home.
The National Polar-orbiting Observing Satellite System (NPOESS) was a joint program of the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce and NASA to replace less sophisticated weather satellites that are expected to fail over the next several years. It would help develop 3-7 day weather forecasts for civilian and military purposes, including weather like hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. Unfortunately, the program ended up billions over budget, and 6 or more years late. Some gaps in coverage are possible during that time, if enough older satellites fail.
In November 2005 testimony given at a House of Congress Science Committee hearing, the Administrator of NOAA and the Undersecretary of the Air Force promised new cost and schedule estimates and policy options, as well as fuller and more rapid information. NPOESS was openly described as “a program in crisis.” Just under 5 years later, that crisis came to an end with a program split into civilian (JPSS) and military (DWSS) systems, and a 5-year NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite that will test key instruments and serve as a capability bridge.
In 2009, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began awarding contracts for innovative research proposals under its Terahertz (THz) Electronics Program. Readers will probably be asking the same question that crossed our mind: “when can I expect this in my laptop?”
Chip frequency has stalled out as a measure of computing power, but DARPA has a long history of helping to fund computing breakthroughs – from that minor nuisance we call the Internet to modern work on Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductors, non-thermionic transistors, research into graphene circuits, and more. Now, their Terahertz (THz) Electronics program is looking for technologies to enable revolutionary advances in electronic devices and integrated circuits, allowing them to reach THz frequencies of at least a trillion cycles per second…
Military commanders have always been subject to the whims of mother nature. Napoleon’s attempt to take Moscow stalled in the bitter cold and snow of the Russian winter. The D-Day invasion was postponed because of a poor weather forecast.
To better predict the weather, the US Department of Defense began an effort in the 1960s called the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) to use satellites to monitor weather from space. Data from DMSP satellites are used for strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the US military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air.
The aging DMSP is being replaced by the National Polar-orbiting Observing Satellite System (NPOESS); however, that system is $3 billion over budget and is not expected to be ready until 2012. In the meantime, DMSP replacement satellites are being launched to keep the system functioning. On Oct 18/09, the DMSP F-18 satellite was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 2 more DMSP satellites – F-19 and F-20 – are expected to be launched before the program ends…
Arms control treaties and other deactivations have left the USA with over 1,400 ballistic missile rocket motors in storage. The USAF’s Rocket Systems Launch Program looks at ways to reuse them for missile defense testing or spacecraft launches, examines the use of ballistic missile technology for a Conventional Strike Missile (CSM), and studies related technologies. RSLP has supported various technology development efforts for guidance and navigation systems; advanced reentry physics; avionics; Missile Technology Demonstration (MTD); Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and Ballistic Missile Range Safety Technology (BMRST).
In December 2012, US Space & Missile Command’s Space Development and Test Wing issued 3 indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price RSLP contracts, with up to $900 million in task orders to be competed among the winners:
The Aerospace Corp. is actually a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). The aerospace FFRDCs are non-profit companies that provides technical analyses and assessments for US national security and space programs. This may include scientific and engineering support involving launch, space, and related ground support systems, research and advisory services, general systems engineering, engineering support, and systems integration support. Most people in the industry know them as publishers of the excellent Crosslink magazine, but see their program involvement timeline for a better sense of how broad their efforts have truly been. As they put it: