Space Force news for week ending 09.24.2023

Science, politics and finance: Three arenas in which the modern military must exist, and all three poked into the Space Force–centric news headlines this week. While a wide–ranging study revealed that the US’ space domain awareness needs some improvement, the USSF CSO is calling on the DoD for more solid guidelines in tech acquisition.

In Washington, the House Armed Service Committee weighs in on some controversial comments made by USSF brass in June — which were nearly diametrically opposed by a top Space Force civilian leader. And in California, Space Systems Command handed out three new contracts in satellite tech, perhaps buoyed by the success of the recent Victus Nox mission. We enter all spheres in this week’s Space Force news; read on for details…

Study: SDA/SSA needs serious work, data–sharing ASAP

This week’s Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance (AMOS) Technologies Conference gave Space Force and Air Force brass another semi– public forum to discuss the current state of space tech, but much attention there and in mainstream media outlets focused on the release of a study entitled “Addressing the Debilitating Effects of Maneuvers on SSA Accuracy and Timeliness.”

The study was undertaken by COMSPOC, the Center for Space Standards and Innovation, LSAS Tec, the Space Data Association, Intelsat and satellite broadband operator SES, and its findings were detailed in a presentation at the Maui conference. The major takeaways for the USSF and its partners were all about the concerning lack of accuracy recently displayed by orbital trackers.

The study considered tracking data in relation to six sub–categories of orbital tacking inaccuracy from unannounced maneuvers by foreign powers’ satellites to simple miscalculation in plotting the trajectories of non–US craft. Such small–scale inaccuracy has led to some grievously incorrect projections by the USSF 18th Space Defense Squadron; in one extreme case, the study cited an object which was in reality some 3,000 miles off the location calculated by the 18th’s trackers.

As COMSPOC Corp. chief scientist Dan Oltroffe told military–centric news outlet Breaking Defense at the conference, “The bottom line of this is: You can throw as much data as you want at this problem, but people who are working on space traffic management, also need to have better inputs into modeling and better modeling.”

Study authors did include suggestions for areas of improvement for greater space situational awareness (SSA), including:

  • Sharing of data and plans among spacecraft operators;
  • Creation, development and standardization of data–sharing protocols;
  • Merging of military and private–enterprise SSA data; and
  • Installation of determinative algorithms.

Surely not coincidentally, the Space Data Association posted an article on Monday, September 18, the same day their co–commissioned report was presented at the Maui conference, which echoed these concerns regarding SSA/space domain awareness. The post detailed the SDA’s own “three important steps that will move us in the right direction”:

  • “Governments to be more proactive;
  • Improved data availability and data fusion; and
  • Closer collaboration between all interested parties.”

No matter which advice is ultimately taken by the Space Force and its partners, the study makes abundantly clear the reality that the US’ current handling of SSA stands at a critical point in its development. A focus on the issue at next year’s Maui event is a certainty. Sources: Breaking DefenseSpace Data Association official website.

Saltzman rejects DoD Commercial Space Strategy, wants “actionable” plan

USSF Chief of Space Operations (CSO) Gen. B. Chance Saltzman was among the speakers at the AMOS Technologies Conference this week, dropping the news that he’d called for a complete redoing of the draft Commercial Space Strategy handed down by the Department of Defense (DoD) earlier this month.

The Strategy laid out plans to emphasize tech acquisition from the private– industry so as to better exploit innovation emerging from the burgeoning commercial space sector. However, Saltzman was not particularly impressed. After reading the draft, Saltzman reckoned the proposal “was not enough,” explaining to the assembled in Maui that “It can’t just be a strategy with aspirational platitudes about how we’re going to work together. I just don’t think that’s where we are today. It has to have more tangible guidance, things that we can take action on.”

Saltzman said he’d sent the draft “back to the drawing board,” asking for something that goes from “aspirational to actionable.” Specifically, “I started asking some questions amongst the staff like ‘What is the appropriate division between those services which commercial industry can provide and those services which have to be inherently governmental because of the nature of the effort, the nature of the consequences that come with it? And quite frankly, there’s not a lot of easy answers.”

Furthermore, he asked, “What’s the difference between commercial services, commercial data and commercial capabilities? What exactly is it that I want the commercial industry to do? Defining those terms will allow the service to then develop solid requirements and put out more specific requests for proposals…”

Saltzman stated that he is hoping for the rewritten draft to be completed by year’s end and that “We’ll make this a dynamic document. If it doesn’t clarify things for you, if it doesn’t make things actionable for you, then it’s not doing what I intended, and I need that feedback as well.” Source: Breaking Defense.

HASC seeks clarification on USSF COO’s Pride Month comments

On Wednesday, September 30, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) held a hearing on the subject of “Meritocracy in the military services: Accession, promotion and command selection.” Among those representing the services was Katherine Kelley, the USSF’s Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Human Capital.

The most well–publicized substance of Kelley’s testimony centered on her apparent walking back of certain comments made by USSF Chief Operations Officer Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt at a June 7th event hosted by the Pentagon in observance of Pride Month.

At that time, Burt claimed that “More than 400 anti–LGBTQ+ laws have been passed” in year 2023 and these could be “dangerous to servicemembers, their families and our readiness as a whole.” She went on to reiterate longstanding Space Force policy that “The diverse and inclusive tapestry of the Department of Defense must continue to embrace the LGBTQ+ community.”

In the Meritocracy hearing, however, the HASC — and particularly Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.) — sought to get to the bottom of Burt’s remarks. Gaetz, who later in the week garnered lots of attention in the headlines for his machinations in advance of an imminent federal government shutdown, went to work on both Kelley and Lt. Gen Caroline Miller, the USAF deputy chief of staff for human resources.

“What was that general talking about,” questioned Gaetz, when she referenced the 400–some laws that should be taken into account when stationing servicepeople. Miller deferred on this query, but Kelley stated that Burt had been referring to the USSF’s “assignments matching process” and went on to assert that the Space Force does not take into account local laws regarding abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Kelley further explained that, in matching recruits to postings, factors such as a given state’s critical race theory laws or abortion law are considered only if a Guardian can demonstrate actual personal hardship caused by the existence of these laws.

Gaetz ultimately openly suggested that the Lt. Gen. Burt should be put before the HASC to clarify her comments. Sources: Daily Caller News Foundation via News Talk Florida, YouTube.

ABL Space Systems wins $15 million SSC SBIR contract

Space Systems Command (SSC) announced on Monday, September 18, that ABL Space Systems had been awarded a $15 million contract under auspices of the SSC Assured Access To Space (AATS) responsive launch program. The award was a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the AATS Small Launch and Targets Division as part of the SSC/Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Strategic Funding initiative designed to “develop a launch mission design that incorporates planning for numerous satellites to multiple orbits from a variety of locations and to conduct a proof–of–concept responsive launch.”

Upon announcing the contract award, SSC Small Launch and Targets division chief Lt. Col. Justin Beltz stated that “The Space Force is committed to growing Tactically Responsive Space capabilities, including launch, space, and ground segments, to meet the needs of combatant commanders.”

“This mission area is evolving quickly, and it’s important we continue to push the bounds of speed, responsiveness, and flexibility.” Sources: Satnews.comDefense Daily.

Japan–based startup gets $25.5 mil USSF contract for refueling satellites

As the Space Force looks to the future of refueling in–orbit satellites, this once it’s looking to Japan for critical tech. Space Systems Command (SSC) announced on Friday, September 22, that Tokyo–based startup Astroscale Holdings Inc. had won a $25.5 million contract to develop an in–orbit refueling satellite.

Founded in 2013, Astroscale specializes in on–orbit services such as the contracted refeuling as well as removal of debris in space. An SSC press release on the announcement stated in part that “For more than 60 years, satellites’ designs and operations have been constrained because they have been required to launch carrying a lifetime fuel supply,” but in–orbit refueling would “transform the existing paradigm for space operations.”

Further, “The proposed solution leverages a refueling technology advanced by previous industry/Government partnerships, delivering fuel to client vehicles, and permitting them to remain on–station and on–mission. In doing so, U.S. Space Force’s on–orbit capabilities and operational flexibility will strengthen deterrence and enable more diverse and effective responses to the growing threat posed by our adversaries’ military space capabilities. By itself, this innovation will transform the existing paradigm for space operations.”

Under terms of the contract, the US office of Astroscale will deliver a prototype of the satellite by 2026. Source: Kyodo NewsSpace Systems Command PR.

True Anomaly moves into Phase III contract with SSC

And Space Systems Command (SSC) handed out a third contract this week: On Thursday, September 21, a $17.4 million Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) deal was awarded to True Anomaly, Inc., for Space Domain Awareness (SDA) analytics and AI tools.

Based on True Anomaly’s proprietary Mosaic software, the SDA solution is promised to “leverage powerful analytics and scalable AI to support human– machine teaming for improved efficiency across the spectrum of SDA operations.”

True Anomaly CEO Even Rogers stated upon announcement of the contract award, “As space grows more critical to national security missions, awareness in the domain is increasingly complex, leading to exponential operational requirements for Guardians and infrastructure. Modern SDA is about much more than collision avoidance: It’s about delivering the right information at the right time to the right decision–maker. The rapid global launch cadence has outpaced the DoD’s ability to fuse SDA data. Our application suite directly addresses this gap with scalable automation intended to be a force multiplier for SDA operators. The software has been carefully architected to continuously adapt to the rapidly evolving domain.” The new SDA technology will network with two of True Anomaly’s Jackal satellites scheduled for launch in early 2024. Each jackal bears three cameras and will perform rendezvous–and–proximity operations and servicing missions, according to the company.

True Anomaly was awarded the new contract after completing the previously contacted Direct–to–Phase II earlier this year. Sources: True Anomaly PRSpace News.

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