Satellites

August 1, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off, carrying the company’s StarLink low-earth-orbit networking satellites. Flooding near-earth space with hundreds of satellites is the future of orbital activities as satellite construction expenses and launch costs continue to come down.  SpaceX

The next era of satellite communications is upon us in the form of low-earth-orbit constellations aiming to revolutionize personal connectivity, according to satellite experts. These new satellite swarms are being driven by technology innovations simultaneously with the growth of less-expensive launch services. The result will be an explosion in the number and type of orbiters serving their earthbound hosts while raising the bar for support technologies on the ground.

August 1, 2020
By George I. Seffers
The Naval Research Lab’s Blossom Point satellite tracking facility is fully automated, reducing manpower and costs. Now, the research lab is extending those capabilities with autonomous antennas in California and Hawaii.   Emanuel Cavalarro

By year’s end, U.S. Navy researchers intend to add one of two remote autonomous antennas to its satellite tracking architecture, enhancing its ability to collect strategic satellite data and support space-related research and development.

The first antenna will be located at a secure, undisclosed and unmanned site in California and will extend the tracking capabilities from Blossom Point, Maryland. The second is planned for Hawaii.

Blossom Point is located south of Washington, D.C., and is owned and operated by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). It is considered a state-of-the-art command and control facility capable of supporting satellite spaceflight missions from launch through end-of-life.

July 1, 2020
By Shaun Waterman
Lockheed Martin engineers work on the GPS IIR satellites for the U.S. Air Force. Lockheed Martin designed and built 21 GPS IIR satellites and subsequently modernized eight of those spacecraft, designated GPS IIR-M, to enhance operations and navigation signal performance.   Courtesy Lockheed Martin

The U.S. Defense Department is increasingly using digital replicas to make predictions about the performance of complex weapons systems such as satellites or jet engines and to train artificial intelligence how to fly high-performance aircraft.

Last year, the U.S. Air Force used this digital twin technology to assess the cyber vulnerabilities of global positioning system (GPS) satellites for the first time. Advocates say the same approach can be used in training artificial intelligence (AI) and can be employed for predictive maintenance to determine when vital parts of an engine might be at risk of failure.

February 28, 2020
By Maryann Lawlor
Squadron Leader Jamiee Maika, Royal Australian Air Force, observes operations at the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. This multinational space force includes a strategic defense partnership between the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Additional nations collaborating on space operations with the center include Germany, France and New Zealand. U.S. Space Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong

Aggressive Chinese and Russian counterspace capabilities have fundamentally changed threats in the space domain, and the United States must now make some transformational changes to its strategic warfare in this new environment. The U.S. Defense Department overall, and the U.S. Space Force and unified Space Command in particular, face three critical challenges that will be fundamental to using space to warfighters’ advantage and remaining a world military leader.

March 1, 2020
By Jim Mazzei
Sgt. April Vance, USMC, a field radio operator with Headquarters Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group, adjusts the communications network during a field training exercise at Camp Pendleton, California. Field radio operators employ a range of frequencies to establish communications, including ultrahigh frequencies, upper-very-high frequencies and high frequencies.  U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Staff Sgt. Rubin J. Tan, USMC

As the components of the celestial network that ties commanders to troops enter into middle age and in many cases retirement, the U.S. Defense Department must take quick action to protect warfighters’ safety and homeland security. The challenge military leaders and procurement officers face is the urgency of the need. After all, communications satellites aren’t cellphones or drones and can’t be bought at the local tech store. Instead, meeting U.S. military communications capabilities needs by 2025 will require changing the location of a satellite already in orbit.

October 21, 2019
Posted by George I. Seffers
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories search for ways to protect satellites from a variety of threats, including missiles, lasers and electronic warfare. Credit: Shutterstock/Andrey Armyagov

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories launched a seven-year mission campaign this month to develop the science, technology and architecture needed for autonomous satellite protection systems.

July 2, 2019
By Robert K. Ackerman
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has selected 10 innovative projects to help the agency measure the Earth’s magnetic field as part of its MagQuest competition. Credit: Shutterstock/Andrey VP

Magnetometer locations ranging from on the bottom of the sea to orbiting in space constitute the first round winners of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's (NGA's) MagQuest open innovation challenge. Designed to generate novel ways of measuring Earth’s magnetic field, MagQuest is offering prizes totaling $1.2 million for novel geomagnetic data collection methodologies.

March 11, 2019
 

SRI International, Menlo Park, California, is awarded an $11,312,731 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for low frequency high power satellite calibration research and development. The contract contains options, which if exercised, will bring the contract value to a total of $63,482,059. The places of performance will be at the contractor’s facility located in Menlo Park, California (65 percent); and at the Bluestar Antenna Facility in Stanford, California (35 percent). Work is expected to be completed March 7, 2020.  If all options are exercised, work will continue through March 2024.

January 7, 2019
 

Northrop Grumman Corp., Aerospace Systems, Azusa, California, has been awarded a $7,688,550 contract option modification (P00029) to contract FA8810-15-C-0001 for Defense Support Program (DSP) on-orbit satellite and anomaly resolution support. This support provides root-cause analysis as a key component of the lifetime extension of DSP.  Work will be performed in Azusa, California; Aurora, Colorado; and Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is expected to be completed by September 30, 2019. Fiscal year 2019 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $7,688,550 are being obligated at the time of award. Total cumulative face value is $108,244,260.

January 1, 2019
By Kimberly Underwood
The U.S. Air Force is facing a strategic inflection point in terms of how it pursues satellite communications in an increasingly contested space environment. The service launched its fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency mission aboard the Atlas V rocket by the United Launch Alliance on October 17, 2018, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Space Launch Complex-41.  United Launch Alliance

Known as the SMC, the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, part of the service’s Space Command, is at the helm of the military’s satellite communications. Confronting a contested space environment and the need to innovate faster, the SMC is pursuing a reorganization involving its contracting and decision-making approaches to improve the nation’s defense-related satellite communications.

January 5, 2018
By Kimberly Underwood
NASA’s new GOLD mission, launching on January 25, will provide important observations of the ionosphere, and how it impacts technologies operating in near-space. NASA photo

During the last several years, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has been developing a mission to explore near-space, where the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere meets space. The effort, known as the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, will come to initial fruition with the launch of observation equipment on January 25.

October 31, 2017
 

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Sunnyvale, California, has been awarded a $21,097,084 modification (P00043) for advanced extremely high frequency satellites (Vehicles 5 and 6). The company will implement operational resiliency for satellite Vehicle 6 and Atlas 551 capability for Vehicles 5 and 6. Work will be performed in Sunnyvale, California, and is expected to be completed by June 30, 2021. Fiscal 2017 missile procurement funds in the amount of $21,097,084 is being obligated at the time of award. Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the contracting activity (FA8808-12-C-0010).

August 14, 2017
 

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Littleton, Colorado, has been awarded a $45,482,492 cost-plus-incentive-fee modification (P00450) for military code (M-Code) early use software. The contract will enable M-Code tasking, monitoring and signal in space for current and future global positioning system satellites. Work will be performed in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Colorado, and is expected to be completed by December 2019. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. Fiscal 2017 research and development funds in the amount of $15,300,000 are being obligated at the time of award. Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the contracting activity (FA8807-08-C-0010).

April 17, 2017
By Sandra Jontz

The cannonade of small satellites hovering above the Earth is creating a dilemma for government and industry alike: how to process enormous amounts of data sent to the ground. 

Collecting information isn’t the hard part, nor is transmitting it, experts say. What vexes intelligence analysts the most is not being able to make heads or tails of petabyte upon petabyte of data. But the government seeks help from the commercial world to make that happen.

February 1, 2017
By Carl Morris and James Christophersen
A new state-of-the-art Satellite Earth Terminal Station (SETS) in Landstuhl, Germany, provides improved heating, ventilation and air conditioning and power distribution as well as additional floor space to better accommodate increased systems and subsystems. Photo courtesy U.S. Army-PM DCATS

U.S. Army satellite ground stations are getting a much-needed total makeover—considering that several hail from the same era as the Vietnam War, the Kennedy presidency and the space race. 

Their high-tech moniker—Satellite Earth Terminal Stations, or SETS—belies the actual nature of these facilities. The structures appear to more closely resemble corrugated steel warehouses for auto parts than suitable environments for cutting-edge satellite communications (SATCOM) equipment. During the 1960s, digital SATCOM was hardly a twinkle in the eye of technologists. SATCOM speed, volume and complexity would increase by many orders of magnitude over the next five decades.

December 1, 2016
By Sandra Jontz

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA, has selected its winners from its crowd-sourced Multi-View Stereo 3-D Mapping Challenge—a contest to see who could best convert satellite photos into 3-D models to create more accurate maps.

The top challenge solvers demonstrated their solutions during an all-day workshop Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The open source solutions were released during the event and will be made available to the public on an IARPA website.

November 29, 2016
 

Recent technological advances have brought the on-orbit robotic servicing of satellites closer to reality. Now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has kicked off the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) to tackle the lack of clear, widely accepted technical and safety standards for responsible performance of on-orbit activities involving commercial satellites.

September 1, 2016
by Raymond Guzman and N.A. Chu

When Russia launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, nearly 59 years ago, the orb hurtled uncontrollably through space, transmitting basic broadcast radio pulses for a mere three weeks before its batteries were exhausted.

How times have changed.

Experts have developed satellite resiliency at an exponential rate, enhancing capabilities by leaps and bounds since the novel one-way signals of Sputnik were heard around the world.

June 17, 2016
By Tony Bardo

Recent disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have demonstrated the importance of improving the nation’s emergency communications infrastructure at all levels of government. Ensuring consistent, uninterrupted communications during a disaster, and the days immediately following, is essential to an organization’s ability to meet mission-critical response requirements. Unfortunately, communications infrastructures easily fall victim to physical damage, leaving personnel and emergency responders unable to effectively communicate.

June 9, 2016
By Sandra Jontz
NATO officials highlight several business initiatives to meet future needs during the NITEC 2016 cyber conference in Tallinn, Estonia. Photo by Marcos Fernandez Marin, NCI Agency

Industry said, “Show me the money,” and NATO obliged.

Officials shared several key business initiatives to meet future NATO needs during the three-day NITEC 2016 cyber conference, informing industry members about 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) worth of upcoming business opportunities and contract work.

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