JUST IN: Space Force to Leverage NOAA Antennas for Military Satellite Missions
Air Force photo
The Space Force is enlisting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s help in handling the growing amount of military satellites in orbit, a service official said May 24.
In the last year, the Space Force has taken over the satellite communications missions previously managed by the Army and Navy, and now all Defense Department satcom resides in one service for the first time, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, the commander of Space Operations Command. And with an increasing amount of launches planned over the coming years, the demands on the service’s ground systems are increasing.
The Space Force’s primary ground segment is the Satellite Control Network, a series of 19 antennas located across the globe “that allow our space operators, no matter where they're sitting, to send commands to their satellites,” Whiting said during a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event.
User demand for the Satellite Control Network “runs high and is expected to increase,” with SCN-supported satellite launches having tripled since 2012, according to a Government Accountability Office report on the network published in April.
“The utilization rate for the SCN has averaged 75 percent over the last decade,” the report said. “This rate exceeds the 70 percent level that Space Force officials cite as the threshold the commercial industry uses to indicate the need for more capacity.”
In addition to high user demand, the Satellite Control Network is “'venerable,' which is a nice way of saying it’s very old,” Whiting said. “We are wringing every ounce of capability out of it that we can, and we really have some creative people and teams working in that enterprise to make sure we can continue to leverage that.”
One way to stay on top of the increased demand in space is by leveraging other capabilities within the federal government such as NOAA, Whiting said.
NOAA has “a series of antennas now that we are partnering with them to leverage for some of our satellite constellations like the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program … which is a weather satellite system,” he said. The Space Force plans to test NOAA antennas for other military satellites later this year, he added.
Additionally, many of the Space Force’s big constellations have their own dedicated antennas, “so that's … more capability that helps round out the Satellite Control Network,” he said.
Along with leveraging existing antennas, Space Operations Command and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office are partnering on the Satellite Communication Augmentation Resource, or SCAR, program to acquire new ground systems for the network, Whiting said.
The upgrade will include a “flat plate, phased-array radar system that can do … 10 satellite contacts at a time,” he said. “Essentially, we'll be able to put one of these SCARs at one of our” Satellite Control Network stations, “and instead of being able to do two or three contacts at a time — which we can do today — we'll be able to do 10 at a time, so really starting to multiply that capability.”
The goal is to acquire a total of 12 new antennas as part of the SCAR effort, with the first prototype expected in 2025, the GAO report said.
Whiting said: “We'll get the first of those in the next couple years, and then hopefully we can continue to field more SCARs as we go forward to upgrade and modernize the Satellite Control Network.”