Startup SCOUT sparks Space Force interest with space data software

SCOUT Space uses computerized “digital twins” of spacecraft to demonstrate its sensor and software integration capabilities for space domain awareness. (Image: SCOUT Space)

WASHINGTON: Tiny startup SCOUT Space caught the attention of the Space Force with its software for integrating space observation data from numerous satellite sensors, winning a demonstration contract from the Air Force’s AFWERX technology accelerator Force Research Laboratory.

As part of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 2 Award, announced today, SCOUT will work with AFRL’s Intelligence Systems Division and Force Delta 2 responsible for space domain awareness (SDA), according to company officials. The company has also had conversations with Space Force Space Operations Command, including the possibility of providing SDA payloads for hosting on military satellites used for other missions.

While SCOUT is developing its own sensors and flew a demo version of its space inspection payload, called Vision, last June, CEO Eric Ingram told Breaking Defense on Thursday the 15-person small company – launched in 2019 and based in Alexandria, Virginia. – is “ultimately a data and services company”.

There is a “roadmap to launch our spacecraft and possibly develop a constellation,” he said, but based on the current state of technology and the market, it will likely take several years.” before something like a beneficial constellation existed”.

Therefore, Ingram added, “we are evaluating the capabilities and the most effective way to deploy the capabilities.”

Sergio Gallucci, co-founder and chief technology officer of SCOUT, explained that AFWERX’s $749,995, 12-month contract is really about demonstrating its software capabilities. The goal is to integrate unclassified sensor data collected from multiple space cameras with data from military sensors such as ground-based radars and telescopes, he said, and explore operational concepts for use by Guardians to scan the skies for threats to US space systems. .

“What we’re working on, to really get down to business, in this Phase 2 effort, is some sort of data protocol, platform integration effort that ensures that the data we collect…with our space sensors can be integrated into the operational ecosystem of Space Force operators,” he said.

Space Force Delta 2 Commander Col. Marc Brock explained in today’s press release that there are challenges to the service’s ability to identify, characterize and keep tabs on adversary activity in orbit.

“We have gaps in our SDA business and we’re always looking for new capabilities to fill those gaps,” he said. “SCOUT’s unclassified, space-based non-terrestrial imagery capability and automatically generated commercial analytical products and services have the potential to become mission critical enablers for Delta 2.”

These challenges, as reported by Breaking Defense, range from aging software systems for ingesting sensor data to finding a way to alleviate some of the routine data processing burden from human analysts via the automating. Also, until now, the few satellites that can keep their eyes on the sky — like the six birds in the Geosynchronous Space Situational Monitoring program — used a siled infrastructure to receive and analyze their data.

Another issue, Gallucci explained, is that disaggregated space sensors hosted on proliferating satellites, or carried as payloads hosted on satellites with other missions, can suck up many images that can easily overwhelm the ability to capture them. treat.

SCOUT’s software is designed to mitigate all of these issues, using on-board processing, he said. “We try to make the data as streamlined as possible before delivering it…and to ensure that the data generated can effectively support the mission and not just drown out whatever people are doing with noise.”

SCOUT also performs “commercial studies” on the effectiveness of using proliferating space sensors to routinely scan large volumes of orbital real estate for abnormal behavior rather than instructing them to focus on certain areas and/or evil suspects. Gallucci said that so far it seems very likely that some sort of “hybrid” approach would work best.

The demonstration contract with AFWERX is primarily conducted using so-called digital twinning techniques that simulate ground-orbit operations, Gallucci said, although artificial intelligence/machine learning software was also trained using data acquired from the company. own sensor in orbit.

Ingram said the company will hopefully launch two more payloads early next year hosted by Momentus, another startup that intends to operate a fleet of orbital transfer vehicles that will carry other satellites in orbit and will be able to perform rendezvous and proximity operations. SCOUT’s Vision system will allow operators to “see” to maneuver.

“There is increased interest in deploying the system in orbit,” he said. “We’ve been making a lot of noise within the ecosystem, to demonstrate how things can be done faster, more efficiently, and in a way that can more seamlessly integrate the dual-use capabilities we’ve developed commercially into the fighter’s toolbox.”

Dino J. Dotson