There are thousands of satellites orbiting Earth, and they’re hard at work.
They help people communicate and navigate from point A to point B. They help spot wildfires and predict the weather. But their effectiveness has a limit: how quickly people on the ground can access and interpret the data they produce.
Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, is helping satellite customers get the most value they can from their orbiting assets through a command-and-control system that works on any platform, with any sensor, with any vendor and in any orbit. And, through modern software developments and artificial intelligence, the business is doing it faster than ever.
“Through a single ground system, we can increase the speed and fidelity of data collection,” said Bob Canty, vice president of Constellation Management & Protection for Space & C2 Systems at RI&S. “Satellites aren’t communicating only with the ground system; they’re communicating with each other.”
The initiative comes from the increasing imperative to streamline the management of satellite constellations. Raytheon Intelligence & Space has developed a software-based system to manage multiple constellations untethered to any one asset, improving the speed and ease of mission management.
Not only is the data coming in faster – the updates to the technology are, too. RI&S is working to deliver updates in short, two-week increments. Systems get twice-a-month updates, prioritized and delivered through the software development method known as DevSecOps. That way, customers no longer have to wait six months or a year for a fix – glitches get patched and concerns are resolved quickly and continuously.
“With an open and flexible software base, our rapid-delivery model can handle volume and complexity,” said Fred Kuhnert, RI&S Business Development director of Constellation Management & Protection. “It allows the ground control system software to be scalable, whether it’s one satellite in need of an update or a thousand.”
As customers receive faster updates to their operating systems, they can also take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Low Earth orbit satellites move at 15,000 mph. That doesn’t leave time for human eyes to note changes in an environment or detect something out of the ordinary.
But, with AI/ML tools in the mission management software, sensors act as “superhuman eyes.” They can pick up errant signals in a split second, and the system can log and flag the signals for review.
“The system may not know what the signal is, but it will know it shouldn’t be there, or that it’s new,” said Kuhnert.
The next frontier, according to RI&S engineers, is greater integration of assets. That would help continuity – if an object of interest passes out of one sensor’s range, another sensor, like one on an aircraft, can swoop in and take over.
Satellites or sensors in use by one service can be harnessed by another to transfer information faster and to save operational costs. Operators can have access to better tactical resources through mission management technology.
“Operationally, these integrated satellite communications can be just as critical to a mission as an F-35 is now,” said Kuhnert. “If there’s an intelligence need, any sensor in the specific area of need can be tasked to provide information, and since the system is integrated, the data goes directly to the right user on the ground.”