With competition coming at last to American military satellite launches, civilian developments take on new importance. A NASA program called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) is a major source of potential funds for key players in space launch and space vehicles, which could solve a civilian problem while improving the military’s options.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, American manned missions to the International Space Station have mostly involved Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, which costs about $63 million per seat. The lone exception has involved the commercial space innovator SpaceX, whose unmanned Dragon v1.0 capsule docked at the ISS in May 2012. NASA continues to pursue its own Space Launch System heavy rocket and Orion capsule for manned spaceflight, but in the mean time, its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program aims to spur development of lower-cost American options that could supplant or supplement Soyuz.
These “space taxis” will rely on heavy-lift rockets to make it into space. Their purpose isn’t military, but their configurations are very good news for the USA’s space industrial base…
The USA’s Global Positioning System service remains free, but the European Union is spending billions to create an alternative under their own control. In addition to civilian GPS (the Open Service), services to be offered include a Safety of Life Service (SoL) for civil aviation and search and rescue, a paid Commercial Service with accuracy greater than 1 meter, plus a Public Regulated Service (PRS) for use by security authorities and governments. PRS/SoL aims to offer Open Service quality, with added robustness against jamming and the reliable detection of problems within 10 seconds.
Organizational issues and shortfalls in expected progress pushed the “Galileo” project back from its originally intended operational date of 2007 to 2014/15. After a public-private partnership model failed, the EU gained initial-stage approval for its plan to finance the program with tax dollars instead of the expected private investments. Political issues were overcome in 2007 by raiding other EU accounts for the billions required, but by 2011, it became clear that requests for billions more in public funds were on the way. Meanwhile, doubts persist in several quarters about Galileo’s touted economic model. Security concerns regarding China’s early involvement, and its potential Beidou-2/Compass projects, have been equally persistent, and there is good reason to expect that the constellation has a military purpose. On a European political and contractual level, however, Galileo is now irreversible.
This article offers background, players, developments, contracts, and in-depth research links for Galileo, as well as linked EU programs like GIOVE and EGNOS.
The United Arab Emirates’ AED 3.4 billion (EUR 703 million/ $925 million) “Falcon Eye” optical observation satellites are meant to provide a wholly new capability to their military by 2018, and represented the most advanced optics France had ever sold to another country. France’s CNES cites 0.7m / 2′ 4″ spatial resolution for the Pleiades Class at nadir, and a field of view of 20 km. EADS DS/ Astrium touts up to 100 km x 100 km in strip mapping mode.
The deal has had a rough road lately, and is currently hung up in re-negotiations…
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…