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CHIPS Articles: What is SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic Doing in Space?

What is SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic Doing in Space?
By Susan Piedfort, Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic Public Affairs - January 17, 2018
CHARLESTON, S.C. (NNS) — Warfighters must have reliable and capable communications and information to successfully perform their missions, and the "Space" team at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic is delivering that capability.

SSC Atlantic's Air and Space Integrated Product Team (IPT) is making optimum use of space as a domain to deliver communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and navigation capabilities to warfighters.

"Our folks are very effectively employing the medium of space to put information in the hands of our warfighters," said SSC Atlantic Commanding Officer Capt. Scott Heller. "It's all about providing warfighting capability for the fleet."

Norris Mitchell is the technical lead for SSC Atlantic's Air and Space (IPT). He noted that while much of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) space mission is centered on the West Coast at Program Executive Office (PEO) Space Systems and at SSC Pacific, SSC Atlantic also provides considerable expert assistance in the engineering, development and acquisition of space systems for naval missions.

"Our people are scattered all over," Mitchell said. "Our Air and Space IPT works with different competencies to find people to work on projects."

Space-based systems are indispensable to modern warfare, and the Navy and all services rely heavily on space capabilities. SSC Atlantic support ranges from providing a government person for technical oversight of contractors developing systems, to maximizing use of data collected by satellites, to performing research that can lead to technology insertions.

"We are also leveraging the activities in other technical growth areas, such as cloud technology, and applying that to our space efforts," Mitchell said. "Doing this kind of technical exchange — applying what we used for one customer to help another — saves time and money," he added.

SSC Atlantic has a long history of satellite communications capabilities and support, including ground-based control and communications systems, infrastructure and data processing related to them. These satellites are used for communications, observation, weather reporting, navigation and research.

SSC Atlantic also supports space missions and delivers data services and products via space, all to enable global information warfare and enhance combat effectiveness.

"We have folks going to launches, having payloads on the rockets, looking at data collected and supporting other elements that do things in space," said Jay Hughes, formerly head of SSC Atlantic's Air and Space IPT. Colin Thomas recently took over as acting Air and Space IPT lead. The IPT has about 20 people, with roughly half of them embedded at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) or assigned as needed to support space missions.

"The space family is strong and growing at SSC Atlantic. We have a small but very effective group of engineers and Ph.D.s who are absolutely brilliant," he said. "They are working in very collaborative environments and changing how DoD operates in these domains."

Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), the Navy's next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system, is the culmination of more than 14 years of collaborative effort. MUOS revolutionizes secure communications for mobile military forces. It provides communications capabilities to users around the world, regardless of where they are in relation to a satellite.

Narrowband communication accounts for more than 50 percent of all DoD satellite communications. Narrowband communication is used by every Combatant Command in aircraft, ships, submarines and ground vehicles, by troops in the field and in a host of warfighting applications, including special operations.

SSC Atlantic's Air and Space IPT MUOS expert and Space Segment System Engineering Lead Paul Strazdus has been providing MUOS space systems engineering support, managing quality checks for the system, supporting launch, production and on-orbit testing. He also served as the Navy's satellite technical representative at the manufacturer's facility.

Strazdus also supported the Mission Analysis team at the Naval Satellite Operations Center (NAVSOC) Satellite Control facility to develop and execute alternate orbit raising efforts to place the Navy's fifth MUOS satellite into a usable orbit after it experienced a failure of its orbit raising propulsion system. Strazdus and SSC Atlantic Aerospace Engineer Phillippe Reed helped develop courses of action (COA) for an alternate orbit raising method, and Reed conducted Satellite Toolkit (STK) modeling in support of COA development and evaluation.

Reed has completed numerous Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) projects and is involved in engineering work for several space efforts. He has worked on five different missions with nano-satellites (nanosats) for PEO Space Systems. Approximately a foot long and weighing less than 25 pounds, nanosats can rideshare on large launch vehicles for a variety of missions. A common form factor is the CubeSat, a low-cost miniature satellite that is risk tolerant and very capable thanks to electronics miniaturization. They have been used increasingly, with hundreds in development by academic, commercial and military organizations.

Working with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Reed was technical lead on the Vector Joint Capability Technology Demonstration in 2013, which launched two CubeSats into orbit to test advanced communications capabilities, successfully demonstrating the communications mission.

He and other SSC Atlantic employees have focused on nanosat payloads such as the Naval Interferometric Star Tracker Experiment (NISTEx), which measures star positions over time to aid celestial navigation and to determine the orientation of space craft. This project is in partnership with the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO). Nanosat efforts are also centered on radar altimeters, which are used to provide key information about the ocean, measuring the sea surface height, wave height and wind speed.

In a recent NISE project with SSC Pacific, Reed, Barry Solomon and David Wayne investigated use of a small form factor Modulated Retro-Reflector (MRR) experimental payload to deliver a secure, high bandwidth optical communications system. The SSC Atlantic team used commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) components to create a modular, government-owned design that can be reused to support other payloads and missions. This effort evolved into the high-bandwidth anti-jam lower probability of intercept/lower probability of detection (LPI/LPD) optical network (HALO-Net) project, developing an optical communication system to enable low size, weight and power, secure, anti-jam, low probability of intercept and detection downlink and crosslink optical communications for a CubeSat-sized platform. The intent is to deliver assured communications in a radio frequency-constrained environment. However, the retro-reflector can also be used for precise orbit determination using laser ranging techniques, a key capability for radar altimetry systems.

SSC Atlantic's Hampton Roads Detachment Navigation IPT Lead Robert Greer and his lead engineer Leif Manley are working with an experimental Automated Celestial Navigation (ACN) system prototype built by MIT Draper Labs and sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Manual celestial navigation - using a sextant and complex mathematical calculations to determine a ship's location from the position of stars and the angle of the earth — is tedious and time-consuming. The ACN system uses the stars to electronically determine the latitude and longitude on the earth for ships at sea that may not have access to GPS systems.

The SSC Atlantic team will interface the ACN to the WSN-7 Inertial Navigation System (INS) during an at-sea experiment in early FY18. INS is a passive shipboard navigation system which will automatically and continuously calculate and indicate a ship's position, attitude, heading and velocity in relation to the earth's rotation.

"This is the kind of engineering work we are doing that is making space more efficient and affordable," said Hughes. "Our folks are working at NRO, the Naval Satellite Operations Center (NavSOC), USNO and even in Pennsylvania where they were building MUOS, helping make sure everything goes right in space, and resolving and mitigating problems."

SSC Atlantic's Dr. Travis Axtell currently serves as the Informatics Technical Director and Deputy for the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (AWCFT) in Washington, D.C. Axtell spoke at the National Academies of Science workshop on "Challenges in Machine Generation of Analytic Products from Multi-Source Data" Aug. 9. He gave the DoD perspective on multi-source machine learning efforts and discussed the recently started Project Maven, as a part of the new Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSD-I)'s AWCFT. Project Maven is a Deputy Secretary of Defense-directed effort to apply artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning innovations for intelligence. Project Maven will begin by augmenting or automating processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of full-motion video (FMV).

Norris, Hughes, Dr. Ralph Crosby and Albert Garrick were in the Keck Center to hear Axtell's presentation firsthand. Watching the webcast from across the SSC Atlantic Analytics Research Center (ARC) and Data Science, Analytics, and Autonomy Guild were Dr. Lucas Overbey, Suzanne Huerth, Bruce Billian and Reed in 71000.

Axtell started at SSC Atlantic while in college as a co-op student. Once a full-time employee, he completed an internship at the National Reconnaissance Office. He was then selected in the Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) program, and earned his Ph.D. in space systems engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California. While studying at NPS he returned to the SSC Atlantic Charleston campus to give two technical briefs, one on space-based segmented mirror telescopes.

"We have really brilliant people doing engineering work that is making space more accessible and affordable," said IPT Lead Hughes. "We have people who are changing how DoD operates in the space domain and the ISR world. "I have the best job at SSC Atlantic," added Hughes, who as a kid was always the one launching, rockets in the neighborhood. "I love what we are doing for the warfighters who rely on us."

"We are providing great capabilities and people — our most important asset — to operations in space," said SSC Atlantic Executive Director Chris Miller. "Through our Navy space research, development and acquisition activities, we are using the medium of space to put information in the hands of warfighters."

SSC Atlantic delivers capabilities to the Naval, Joint and National Warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C4ISR), cyber and information technology (IT) solutions that provide information warfare capabilities for national defense.

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