Commercial imagery satellites will be directly connected to the US military’s upcoming orbital networks, allowing soldiers in the field to obtain data more quickly. Because of two developments, the military has been increasingly interested in employing satellite imagery to increase its situational awareness as well as target beyond line-of-sight.
Operators were able to collect satellite imagery, process it to select targets automatically, and broadcast it to the battlefield using space-based networks at events like the Army’s Project Convergence in 2020. By downlinking the commercial satellites to just an Army ground station and sending the data across one of these networks, service officials claim they were able to reduce the sensor-to-shooter timeframe from 20 minutes to about 20 seconds.
The military, on the other hand, is striving to expedite the process of sending commercial pictures to soldiers. Currently, service companies run their satellite constellations on their own. Commercial satellites collect pertinent data and downlink it with one of the company’s ground stations once they’ve been tasked (or utilize a ground station service). Data is frequently collected, processed, and then supplied to the military.
The Space Development Agency intends to skip the initial downlink and connect third-party satellites directly to the transport layer of its orbital mesh network. The transport layer, which is made up of hundreds of low-Earth-orbiting satellites connected by optical inter-satellite communications, is an important aspect of the military’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control operation.
The Space Development Agency stated in November that it would collaborate with Capella Space, which is a SAR (synthetic aperture radar) provider, to connect its satellites to the transport layer directly.
“We’re collaborating with them to enable them to install one of our compliant, optical inter-satellite connects directly on their satellites, allowing them to connect to our transport layer directly.” During a November seminar held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Derek Tournear, who is the SDA Director, remarked, “We would love to do it with all commercial ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] providers.”
Data from a variety of government and commercial space-based sensors are sent into the transport layer, where it may be fused in orbit before being delivered down to the soldier through the Link 16 tactical network, according to Tournear. According to the director, it’s a win-win situation for both the government and commercial providers: providers will be able to provide their services directly to customers without needing to downlink and deliver them themselves, while the government will have faster and much more direct access to the commercial data streams.