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Trio of prototyping contracts brings new approach for collecting military weather data

The U.S. Space Force hopes its prototype low-Earth orbit weather satellites will entice commercial businesses and allied nations to partner up on the project, reducing the cost of delivering critical weather data to the war fighter.


The U.S. Air Force has been trying to replace the aging Defense Meteorological Satellite Program for years, ever since Congress opted to can it in 2015. Two capabilities in particular have proven a challenge for replacement: cloud characterization and theater weather imagery.


But now the Space Force thinks it has the answer. By leveraging the increasingly popular low-Earth orbit architecture demonstrated by SpaceX’s Starlink constellation and other experiments, the military believes it can lower the cost of individual satellites, increase the resiliency of the systems and attract new partnerships.


In a recent interview with SpaceNews, Space and Missile Systems Center Portfolio Architect Col. Russell Teehan explained the thinking behind the new approach. The Air Force previously struggled to attract partners due to the sheer cost of the systems, he said. After all, when a single satellite costs more than $700 million, it’s difficult to find someone to share the load. That price point forced the Air Force to build exquisite systems, comprised of just a handful of satellites operating in higher orbits. As the Pentagon has come to understand with its other exquisite systems, in wartime this leaves the military’s space-based capabilities dependent on just a few satellites that are difficult to defend.


A proliferation low-Earth orbit, or P-LEO, constellation may solve both of those problems. Smaller LEO satellites can deliver the same capabilities at a fraction of the cost per satellite, while the sheer number of targets in the constellation means that the loss of a single satellite isn’t crippling.


“The goal is in doing that, that ideally the commercial and allied sector would increase their desire to partner on those activities,” Teehan said. “[T]he activities in the past were generally $700 million-plus individual systems, which forced us into architectures that were [made up of less than five satellites] that were significantly vulnerable if we were in a time of conflict.”


Source: C4ISRNET.

https://www.c4isrnet.com/battlefield-tech/space/2020/08/17/trio-of-prototyping-contracts-brings-new-approach-for-collecting-military-weather-data/

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