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U.S. Air Force Studying Wider Use of MDA Radars for Space Tracking
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has hired Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems to study the possibility of integrating additional Missile Defense Agency (MDA) sensors into the U.S. Space Surveillance Network that tracks orbiting satellites, a Raytheon official said Oct. 28.
The Tewksbury, Mass.-based company was awarded a $3 million contract from Air Force Space Command for a program called the Enterprise Sensing Prototype Architecture for Space Situational Awareness (ESP-SSA), Joe Chapa, Raytheon’s technical director for national theater security programs, said in an interview.
The Air Force’s Space Surveillance Network employs a host of optical telescopes and radars around the world. The telescopes can peer deep into space to keep tabs on satellites in geosynchronous orbit, and the radars are used to track objects orbiting closer to Earth.
But the Air Force network has blind spots, particularly in the southern hemisphere, where it cannot track satellites. The MDA, meanwhile, has a network of radars around the world that can track ballistic missiles as they pass through space, but most of these are not being used to keep an eye on satellites .
Raytheon came to the Air Force with an unsolicited proposal to create an open command and control architecture that would allow the service to task missile defense radars for the space situational awareness mission, Chapa said.
“The problem we are looking at is, if we build these very large and expensive sensors , why can’t we use them for multiple purposes?” Chapa said. “It’s because the missile defense radar is connected to the missile defense command and control node. What we are developing is a conceptual architecture for tying all these sensors together into a single enterprise.”
The MDA’s Upgraded Early Warning Radars in Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Greenland and the United Kingdom have been part of the Space Surveillance Network for years, Chapa said. The new architecture would first enable the Air Force to use MDA’s mobile Sea-Based X-band radar and its mobile AN/TPY-2 X-band radars, he said.
Because of the way command and control networks have evolved over the years, the upgrades could be made to the networks and servers without any changes needed at the sensors themselves. One of the most difficult parts of the transition would be determining the protocols for sharing assets, which would have to be arranged beforehand by the Air Force and MDA, Chapa said. Those priorities would be coded into the network software upgrades and handled automatically.
Under the $3 million contract announced Oct. 26 , Raytheon is doing concept design and network architecture work. The company is in discussion with the Air Force about a possible follow-on to this contract in 2010 that would involve some actual hardware testing, and a full-scale development program could begin around 2012, Chapa said.
Raytheon also has had discussions with the MDA about developing a similar architecture to allow sensors in the Space Surveillance Network to be used for tracking ballistic missiles, and the company has talked with the intelligence community about similar systems as well, he said.