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DARPA seeks satellite operators for LEO Situational Awareness

The U.S. agency DARPA has started a program to use private satellite operators to monitor the position of LEO objects. Credit: DARPA

LONDON, 20/01/2023 – DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Agency) has initiated a project to incentivise operators with large numbers of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to gain situational awareness throughout LEO, Breaking Defense said. Space-domain Wide Area Tracking and Characterisation (Space-WATCH) will utilise satellite constellations to gain LEO’s space situational awareness at a reduced cost when compared to existing ground-based approaches. 

Space-WATCH aims to provide real-time tracking of all objects in LEO so that if any “anomalous action occurs” satellite operators will be notified in time to plan and execute any suitable actions. DARPA believes that the service model will “provide the opportunity for commercial LEO operators to capitalise on an additional revenue stream by providing on-orbit observations that will make the LEO environment safer for all participants”.

The project has been designed in two parts, but at the moment only the first phase is active. “Technical Area 1 is looking to find commercial satellite constellation operators that provide data to a system that will aggregate it” Space-WATCH program manager Greg Kiperman said.

At present, Space Command’s Space Surveillance Network observes LEO with ground-based radar and telescopes. However current observations have several technical limitations for how much they can observe and costly equipment. This new DARPA effort aligns with the Department of Defense’s need to find better and cheaper solutions that gain satellite positioning awareness in low orbit.


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