UK Considers Satellite Sensors For Space Domain Awareness

23rd Sep 2023
UK Considers Satellite Sensors For Space Domain Awareness

The UK is considering a policy to mandate sensors in British satellites to increase space domain awareness (SDA). At the DSEI conference in September, Commodore David Moody, who heads UK Space Command, said payloads in orbit are useless if they have no ability to read their domain. However, plans are already in motion to reduce the risks of an in-space collisions, with the UK government setting aside £1.4 billion for emerging sensor technology, outlined in the National Space Strategy in Action Plan. This funding aims to protect satellites and ensure they are able to identify any approaching hazards.

Satellite Sensors For SDA

ESA reports that more than 170 million pieces of space junk are currently in orbit, ranging from 1mm to 10 cm. The US also tracks around 47,900 objects, which is 16% more than in 2022. Even the smallest piece of material in space can spell disaster if it collides with an operational satellite in orbit. As such, Moody said satellites need to be equipped with sensors to ensure they can co-exist safely and sustainably with in-space material.   

However, a set of principles have already been established to increase SDA in the UK’s Cross Government SDA Requirements Publications. “The intent is to combine individual sensors through a system of systems approach to draw data from a variety of capabilities and fuse it with operational and intelligence sources… [to] provide true domain awareness,” the document read. 

Increasing The UK’s SDA

The UK’s Space Strategy in Action Plan commits to expanding dual-use sensors and data networks to increase SDA. The plan outlined that the National Space Operations Centre will then cascade their findings to commercial and government space organisations. The report said: “[our] commercial integration cell will continue to provide the vital link between industry and defence in enhancing Space Domain Awareness.”

The UK recently partnered with the US to create the JCO-UK tracking cell, which will provide “commercial SDA sensors”. However: “any spacecraft… that doesn’t have some sort of space domain awareness capability is wasted payload,” Moody said. C4ISR reported that Moody said Policy makers are in the midst of creating a new cross government space sector plan. He noted that it will likely call for stronger commitments from satellite operators to utilise SDA sensors. 

Spacecraft Sensors Already In Development

London-based Lumi Space equipped Space Forge’s Forgestar-0 with SDA tracking instruments which would have increased the spacecraft’s domain awareness. Lockheed Martin’s Australian arm also developed wide-field-of-view sensors that will provide low, medium, and geostationary orbit SDA surveillance. Whereas, The Aerospace Corporation built a sensor payload, called Catcher, that will identify any hazards in a satellite’s “surrounding environment”. 

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