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Commercial Space Key for Domain Awareness, SPACECOM Commander Says

By | December 1, 2022

Photo: NASA

Commercial space is becoming key for the U.S. Department of Defense to detect, analyze and respond to threats, a top official said on Nov. 29.

“As of today, we’ve got about 120 commercial mission partners working with us,” Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM), told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies’ Schriever Spacepower Forum. “We have a Commercial Integration Cell at Vandenberg Space Force Base — an area where commercial entities have operations consoles that are side-by-side with our military operators exchanging information near real time.”

Formed in 2015, the Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) is to aid commercial-military communications integration and the protection of U.S. and allied satellites and to build awareness of space threats. The 10 CIC companies include Inmarsat, Iridium Communications, Maxar Technologies, and Viasat.

“Likewise, in Colorado Springs, we have a Commercial Operations Cell that supports the Joint Task Force-Space Defense,” Dickinson said on Nov. 29. “This cell enables real time synergy and information exchange between our owner-operators and tactical users. This information exchange ensures that our industry partners and our operators can rapidly and accurately respond to anomalies on orbit, share valuable lessons learned and improve our overall readiness.”

One example of commercial space domain awareness prowess occurred in January, when Virginia-based ExoAnalytic Solutions reported that China’s ShiJian-21 (SJ-21) Geosynchronous (GEO) satellite had pulled a BeiDou-2 navigation satellite into a “graveyard” orbit.

“When SJ-21 broke away, the commercial partner quickly tracked its movement 300 kilometers above GEO and watched it return,” Dickinson said on Nov. 29. “It’s because a commercial company, in this example, did this that I can talk about it without revealing any type of classified information. This is critical as we increase our space domain awareness capability as well as capacity.”

In April, Space Command released a Commercial Integration Strategy to guide the command’s efforts to work with commercial industry to leverage the explosion of relevant space-related developments in the private sector at lower cost and to put the command and industry on a common path to work together.

The strategy includes three pillars aimed at getting the command to its strategic end state by meeting its needs to boost space power to give it “space superiority across the conflict continuum, thereby ensuring there is never a day without space.”

The pillars are described as ways, and the first way is benefiting from commercial-off-the-shelf products to quickly acquire and refresh capabilities in a number of priority areas, including command and control battle management systems, advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) and big data management, modeling and simulation (M&S) systems, space control systems, and satellite communications satellites and terminals.