Australia-based Saber Astronautics has confirmed a partnership with ‘New Space’ start-up company Rhea Space Activity (RSA), to support the US Air Force development of a wholly new field of intelligence to surveil “cislunar” space – that is, the volume of space between the Earth and the moon.
RSA and its project partner, Saber Astronautics, presented the USAF with a concept for collection and dissemination of intelligence in the cislunar environment.
Akin to Earth-focused geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), lunaspatial intelligence (LUNINT) is defined as the collection of intelligence to monitor activity in cislunar space, as well as on the lunar surface.
Funded by the US Air Force, the RSA-led project will develop a LUNINT dashboard, centered on a graphically enhanced three-dimensional situational awareness portal that will derive precise co-ordinates of notable objects in lunar space and on the lunar surface.
In addition to the dashboard, the LUNINT program will suggest an optimum satellite constellation architecture to monitor cislunar spacecraft in support of US space domain awareness objectives.
Shawn Usman, an astrophysicist and founder of RSA, said a well-established LUNINT capability is required to ensure sustained USAF cislunar Space Operations for the 2020s and well beyond.
“The LUNINT program represents a new dialogue between the New Space industry and the national security community. Co-operation between energetic scientists and engineers in the New Space industry with innovators in the US intelligence community will enable us to develop a new, hyper-focused discipline of intelligence collection to support the US military as they expand their operations into cislunar space,” Usman explained.
Saber Astronautics, operating facilities in Colorado and Australia, will be integrating RSA’s LUNINT software solution into its mission control software suites. This integration will make lunar intelligence available to the US military through the acclaimed Space Cockpit project and in commercial channels through the Predictive Ground station Interface (PIGI) software.
Space Cockpit and PIGI are mission control software suites that enable operators across US services and allied partners to visualise the local space environment, make rapid decisions, and manage large number of space objects.
Saber Astronautics’ chief executive Dr Jason Held welcomed the announcement, saying, “We are seeing increased governmental and military demand for the unique capabilities offered by new commercial companies that have the moon in their sights. RSA’s LUNINT work is perfectly timed, and we can’t wait to try it out with our US government customers and Five Eyes mission partners.”
The Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing alliance comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Cameo Lance, a physicist at RSA, said that development of a new lunar intelligence discipline was inevitable as the US military continuously seeks to expand its capabilities beyond geosynchronous orbit.
“We’ve recently seen a significant uptick of spacecraft headed to cislunar space by our near-peer competitors. For example, China’s Chang’e 4 mission successfully landed a probe on the far side of the moon, and China currently uses a communications satellite at the Earth-moon L2 point to relay communications to Earth,” Lance explained.
RSA and Saber plan to apply for a Phase 2 contract to bring operational LUNINT capabilities to USAF personnel.
The two companies also plan to develop doctrinal recommendations on how such a new capability will fit into current US intelligence practices, and the broader Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
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