Air Force to Make Infrared Data Collected by Satellites Available to All


The Air Force has almost completed launching its fleet of space-based infrared sensing satellites, and is looking to the day when it can make all of its data publicly available, just as it does with GPS.
"There is a movement afoot under the space modernization initiative to start opening up that [space-based infrared radar system] data to industry and commercial partnerships to understand what are the innovative ways we can use that data," said Col. Mike Guetlein, director of Air Force space and missile center's newly formed remote sensing systems directorate. "Those discussions are just starting to occur."

GEO-1 was launched in 2011, GEO-2 in 2013. "The rest of the SBIRS satellites are undergoing manufacturing and are on solid footing," he said. The third in the series will be delivered this summer and the fourth next year.

The geosynchronous infrared satellites in fixed positions some 25,000 miles above Earth work in conjunction with two smaller payloads integrated on other spacecraft placed in an elliptical orbit. The system can either scan or "stare." The infrared scanners search for missile launches. The stare feature looks for heat signatures in wider swaths for battlespace awareness and intelligence gathering.

"Now that all the sensors are starting to deliver, it's time to start looking at what synergies we can get out of the data," he said.

The directorate, which also is in charge of military weather satellites, set up a division that will look at how to exploit the data that these spacecraft produce. It is going out to commands and asking leaders what kind of hard problems the Air Force might be able to solve, he said. "We are currently working security channels to see how we can get maximum distribution of that data."

It is also working with the intelligence community to see how it could use either raw data coming off the sensors or processed data, he added. Intel agencies are already receiving the stare data. It is also working with the Army to see how it can meet some of its needs, he added. The question is whether the infrared data can be pushed down to soldiers so they can see it on a view screen and use it to their advantage, he said.

"The policy is still catching up with what we can do with the data," he said. "There is an explosion coming and a growth area of being able to use this data in a variety of applications."

The infrared data would be released to commercial industry for manufacturers to come up with their own applications, he said. "It is our objective to take advantage of what industry can bring to the table for both military as well as civil applications," Guetlein said. It would be disseminated to the "widest audience possible," he added.

One of the civilian applications might be spotting forest fires, which give off heat signatures.

Topics: Space

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