US lays out $29M for first round of satellite protection

The Air Force laid out $29 million in contracts this week to build space-based sensors that could detect threats or hazards and protect satellites in orbit.

Assurance Technologies and Lockheed Martin Space Systems will split $20 million of the two-year contract that the Air force says should ultimately demonstrate a viable sensing capability, as well as integration with other space systems to offer threat and hazard detection, assessment and notification.

Known as the Self-Awareness Space Situations Awareness, SASSA will develop and demonstrate a hardware/software architecture using a suite of threat warning instruments located on a space vehicle. This will be accomplished by developing and demonstrating a payload that can monitor a space vehicle using threat warning instruments and can report hazards or threat indicators to ground operators. Successful demonstration of the SASSA system will bring threat warning hardware and software, validate a threat warning architecture, and provide valuable lessons learned for future programs, the Air Force stated.

According to the Air Force, the contractors will build an instrument suite can be tailored to the particular space vehicle based on mission and orbit considerations. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center expects contractors to develop a wide range of threat warning instruments, a central instrument processor and communications capabilities for the project. The Air Force plans to launch the demonstration payload at the end of 2010.

The Air Force is looking to protect satellites from ground based lasers or anti-satellite missiles mostly.

Analysts have warned that military satellites, global positioning systems, weather satellites and even satellite TV systems could all be targets of terrorists. Accuracy and elegance are not issues in carrying out a satellite attack, the researchers say, as long as the projectile hits the satellite. In fact, all it would take to succeed with an amateurish, yet effective anti-satellite attack would be the control of an intermediate range missile, which is well within the reach of many nations and organizations with sufficient funds, and a college-level team dedicated to the cause, experts say.

DARPA this year has spent over $38 million for the initial development of its advanced space technology program that ultimately aims to replace traditional "monolithic" spacecraft with clusters of wirelessly-interconnected spacecraft modules. Among its primary objectives includes the ability to resist or survive a variety of natural and manmade threats like anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

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