July 26, 2021

Lincoln Laboratory crafts a payload for integration on Japanese satellites

About 21,000 human origin objects are circling Earth, as per Space-Track.org, and about 1,500 of those objects are in or close to geosynchronous orbit (GEO). Critical facilities, like commercial as well as military communications, weather forecasts, and missile launch warnings, are provided by satellites in GEO. As launch rates rise and many more nations acquire access to space, the number of satellites, as well as debris objects in the GEO belt, is increasing. These sensors will enable the robust space domain awareness (SDA) surveillance activities that include a warning of imminent collisions.

The United States has built an excellent network of optical as well as radar sensors over the past 30 years to offer observations to allow SDA. Sharing SDA data may be a cost-effective option for countries to extend knowledge of the space environment as other countries develop their SDA capabilities. A new partnership between the Japan And the United States is an instance of such data exchange. A collaboration emerged under a system known as SCHI (Situational Awareness Camera Hosted Instrument), wherein the United States will supply sensors that will be hosted on board regional navigation satellites which Japan is creating since the United States and Japan have common interests in space security, especially for space assets over western Pacific. These satellites will enter an established constellation, Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), which works to improve navigation as well as timing services to the users in Japan and the West Pacific through the United states global positioning satellite constellation.

The U.S., MIT Lincoln Laboratory got involved with the U.S.-Japanese collaboration in 2019. With the idea of designing two similar SDA payloads which would be housed on different Japanese satellites, the Air Force got to approach the laboratory. The laboratory collaborates with the Japanese National Secretariat for Space Policy and Mitsubishi Electric Company to incorporate state-of-the-art sensors on the newest QZSS constellation spacecraft, QZS-6 and QZS-7, expected to be deployed in 2023 and 2024, respectively. The findings of objects from the SACHI sensors in GEO will be relayed for inclusion in the current U.S. via a secure connection. At Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, the SDA database is maintained. Via data-sharing arrangements, findings will be made accessible to Japan.

“This program will enable the United States to track satellite activity around a very fascinating area of the world inside the GEO belt. The data generated by these programs would be used functionally by the National Space Defense Center as well as the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. They will also be used to help improve and promote many existing data collection and analytics activities. In several ways, it is also a pathfinder. The U.S. team is blueprinting methods to encourage the United States and Japan to exchange sensitive data; It is also a pathfinder in several ways. The United States teams are blueprinting means to allow confidential data sharing between both the United States and Japan,” Mark Huber, who works as a technical officer in Lincoln Laboratory’s Space Systems and Technology Division, said.