The past week, the business of the Space Force was mostly in the AI business, as a number of companies announced new contracts with the USSF and/or the launching of new R&D projects set to level–up the defense and development of Earth orbit. We’ve also got the big — if slightly late — news on the brand–new 75th ISR Squadron established late last Friday. Read on for all that’s cutting edge in this week’s Space Force news!
Week 1 for 75th ISRS, the US’ first–ever satellite–tracking specialists
Technically the biggest Space Force–related news story happened last week but apparently missed the news cycle thoroughly enough so that outlets from the mainstream to the obscure weighed in on Monday.
The news: On Friday, August 11, the 75th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Squadron was activated at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado. Under the command of Space Delta 7, the 75th is the first–ever military unit dedicated solely to the identification, tracking and, if necessary, destruction of enemy satellites.
Delta–7 commander Lt. Col. Travis Anderson will serve as the first commander of the 75th. Andreson said in part at the activation ceremony that “Today is a monumental time in the history of our service,” said Anderson. “The idea of this unit began four years ago on paper and has probably been in the minds of several U.S. Air Force intelligence officers even longer.”
“The 75th ISRS conducts advanced analysis on adversary space force and counterspace force threats along with their associated architectures. Space forces are space capabilities used by a country to facilitate their joint warfighting. Counterspace forces, also called space attack forces, are space capabilities designed to deny the United States the ability to use our satellite systems during conflict.”
Master Sgt. Desiree Cabrera, who will serve as operations superintendent for the 75th, added that “Over the past year, the senior enlisted leader, Senior Master Sgt. Cristy Duncan, along with the first assigned members of the targeting team, led Space Delta 7’s Operating Location–Bravo using an innovative approach to build the foundation and organizational structure of today’s 75th ISRS.”
“Not only are we standing up the sole targeting squadron in the U.S. Space Force, we are changing the way targeting is done across the joint community when it comes to space and electromagnetic warfare.”
Among those enthusiastic about the new unit’s potential for national security is Mitchell Institute senior resident fellow Col. (ret.) Charles Galbreath, who was quoted in Air & Space Forces magazine as stating that “a squadron like this creates an opportunity for true depth of understanding of the threat environment” in space.
Some outlets applied a dollop of cynicism to the news, echoing Anderson’s contention that standing up of the 75th was a long time coming — perhaps best summarized in headline topping The Register’s story, “US Space Force finally creates targeting unit — Better late than never, right?” But the Squadron more importantly fills a need indicated in Galbreath’s report for the Mitchell Institute in late June of this year which assessed that China was on the verge of surpassing the US for space supremacy. As Galbreath sees it, the new unit is precisely what the Space Force needs. As he told Air & Space Forces magazine, the 75th ISR Squadron together with various intelligence organizations can produce “a consolidated picture of what makes an adversary threat system tick and therefore how [we can] best defeat it.” Sources: the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, the Gazette , Air & Space Forces Magazine, Gizmodo.
SINTRA begins micro–space debris R&D with four contractors
And while the 75th ISR Squadron is set to track adversary satellites, a new program at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) will be doing similarly for micro–sized debris in Earth orbit. Space Debris Identification and Tracking (SINTRA) hopes to use a wide range of new technologies including AI and plasma physics to detect potentially lethal space junk of sizes from 1 millimeter to 10 centimeters in diameter.
In speaking with Breaking Defense this week, SINTRA program manager Alexis Truitt told military news outlet Breaking Defense that “We want to offer multiple potential solutions to the government,” specifically solutions which simply cannot be produced by the current levels of tech by the Space Command (SPACECOM) Space Surveillance Network overseen by the 18th Space Control Squadron.
IAPRA statistics show that as many as 100 million objects of 1mm or greater are currently in Earth orbit and over 99% of these are going untracked.
This month, SINTRA representatives announced that four companies had been contracted for R&D work with the research group: Advanced Space, BlueHalo, SRI International and the West Virginia University Research Corporation.
In May 2024, the concepts put forth by the four teams will be analyzed by federal R&D centers including the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
Said Truitt, “there are a host of other new approaches beyond the plasma and the electrostatic and the electromagnetic signatures that the team would like to explore as well. Across the board, we’re looking at ground– and space–based sensors [and] looking at existing data in a new way.” Sources: Breaking Defense, IARPA official website .
Integrate caps “busy, exhilarating” month with USSF contract win
Representatives of Seattle–based software startup Integrate announced this week not only that the company had raised some $3.4 million in funding but also had won a $1.25 million contract to upgrade the USSF program–management software platform. Finally, the company announced that another such project was getting underway for Firefly Aerospace.
As Integrate CEO/co–founder John Conafay succinctly put it, “It has been a busy and exhilarating month.”
Further, “With our new [seed funding] partners at Hyperplane, Riot Ventures and beyond, we have the resources to accelerate development and truly meet the needs of all companies pursuing ambitious hardware development programs. This funding and customer validation is critical to helping us bring modern collaboration tools to the hardware world.”
Samara Gordon, general partner at Hyperplane, said “Integrate is the first company we’ve seen to successfully transform the way organizations collaborate with their suppliers and vendors.” Already in place at the Space Systems Command (SSC) Mission Manifest Office is Integrate’s signature product, the Demand Acceleration Platform is described as “designed to alleviate issues relating to program management, coordination and documentation for space missions and other projects” and is based on the Amazon Web Services’ AWS GovCloud.
In a media release, Conafay stated that the latest contract would “enable the Space Force to test the usefulness of Integrate’s mission–management platform as an enabler for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Tactically Responsive Space initiative and as a tool for coordinating [SSC programs].” Sources: Geek Wire, Military Embedded, Integrate company website .
Wallaroo.AI wins AFWERX STTR phase II contract for machine–learning tech
After completion of their AFWERX Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I contract, machine–learning (ML) specialists Wallaroo.AI and New Mexico State University computer science department were this week awarded a $1.5 million Phase II contract to “address the most pressing challenges in the Department of the Air Force (DAF).”
“The ability to deploy, manage, and maintain ML models at the edge, on–orbit, and within the constraints of available hardware, limited compute, limited power, in the hostile environment that is space is critical to the development of the space industry,” Wallaroo.AI CEO Vid Jain upon announcing the contract award.
“We think we are well–positioned to be the default platform for ML in space, enabling space agencies to achieve automation in space for activities such as satellite refueling and repairs, while also addressing potential threats from objects in space.”
Through the contract, the company seeks to deploy ML models with radiation–tolerant commercial–off–the–shelf (COTS) integrated circuits, with which the Wallaroo/NMSU team hopes “to transform automation in space by leveraging AI for robotics, refueling, and protecting satellites from space debris.” Sources: Wallaroo.AI PR, Space News.