The latest sats launched by the Department of Defense include classified payloads that evade jammers


Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne launched seven small satellites into low-Earth orbit on July 2 for the US Department of Defense space test program. (Virgin Orbit / Dae Dae)

WASHINGTON — Among the seven experimental satellites launched last week by Virgin Orbit for the Pentagon‘s space testing program is a radio frequency “cognitive” system built by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to enable high-speed, interference-free satellite communications in the nebula of electronic warfare.

The experimental CubeSat, dubbed Recurve, uses artificial intelligence/machine learning to autonomously decide how to route data through large constellations of interconnected Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, known as “mesh networks,” to ensure the right information is delivered to The right user is in the right place at the right time, according to an AFRL press release today.

“Recurve moves us toward a vision of ubiquitous communications networks that extend beyond line of sight to ensure our warfighters have the information they need quickly and reliably,” said Lt. Col. David Johnson, Integrated Experiments and AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate Chief of Evaluations.

Recurve was designed and built entirely in-house by the AFRL Directorate of Spacecraft, the publication added.

Cognitive RF systems can essentially reconfigure themselves by recognizing which spectral bands are the most available (i.e. free of noise caused by weather and/or enemy interference) and quickly hopping to different frequency bands to ensure uninterrupted transmission ensure. This technology can thus provide an additional layer of resilience to that already provided by mesh networks, which already have the benefit of being able to connect directly to as many other nodes as possible in space, air and ground and collaborate around data to and from users without depending on a satellite.

This capability will be critical for the various “Proliferated LEO” satellite constellations being developed by the Space Development Agency, such as: B. The transport layer of data relay satellites, intended to serve as the backbone of the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) capability.

‘Straight Up’ for Army, Aerospace, Mystery Agency payloads

The AFRL satellite and the other six payloads carried on July 2 in the Virgin Orbit launch called Straight Up were provided by the Pentagon’s Space Testing Program, which essentially serves as a facilitator for Department of Defense and NASA experimental launches. Virgin Orbit uses a modified 747 jetliner called the Cosmic Girl for its LauncherOne rocket system to launch starships to LEO.

The launch itself was procured by Space Force under the Rocket Systems Launch Program, which purchases services from small and mid-sized launch providers. Last week’s launch included three other interesting payloads related to national security.

First, the Gunsmoke-L is a classified experiment under the Army’s Tactical Space Layer prototyping project managed by the Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC). The service has developed and launched a number of Gunsmoke satellites since 2018 with slightly different but extremely vaguely and sometimes interchangeably described missions. The Gunsmoke-L experiment, launched last week, involved two small 6U (d modules) Dynetics-built CubeSats, dubbed “tactical space support vehicles” by the Army, but most likely testing an RF geolocation capability that would allow troops To maneuver deep in enemy territory where GPS is denied.

Another bird, the Slingshot-1, is Aerospace Corporation’s 12U CubeSat satellite designed to “accelerate the development of modular and autonomous technologies by leveraging the potential for open standards and non-proprietary interfaces to… to simplify and accelerate the development and integration of payloads”. according to a July 2 press release. Notably, the CubeSat carries 19 tiny payloads, 16 of which were built by Aerospace, which is more of a government-funded research and development center (FFRDC) than a defense contractor. Aerospace payloads include “Dizziness, a reconfigurable attitude control system that enables satellites to find targets on Earth; indicatora GPS transponder for space traffic management; HyPer, a high power hydrogen peroxide thruster for small satellites; and LaserComm, a next-generation space-to-surface laser communications downlink,” the press release reads.

Finally, Modular Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance B (MISR-B) is a classified effort for an unspecified agency. The development and procurement of reconnaissance, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) satellites has traditionally been the responsibility of the National Reconnaissance Office, but over the past year the Space Force has lobbied to take on the acquisition of ISR birds aimed at that , which they call “tactical ISR” with the goal of quickly providing battlefield commanders with ISR imagery.


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