Space Force Lt. Gen. Whiting says the U.S. military will likely need to pay more attention to what’s happening in cislunar space
WASHINGTON – An international race to the moon is already underway, with tThe United States, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates are all in various stages of planning future lunar missions.
Growing activity in outer space beyond Earth’s orbit – known as xGEO or cislunar space – could turn this region into a disputed domain as countries seek access to lunar resources and delineate areas of jurisdiction. As a result, the US military will likely need to pay more attention to what’s happening in xGEO, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of US Space Force Space Operations Command.
“We now see other actors going to the moon, going to lunar orbit and we have to be concerned and interested in what they are doing there,” Whiting said May 16 at a Mitchell Institute event. .
Current sensors used by the military for space domain awareness were designed to track satellites in Earth orbit, at ranges of 36,000 kilometers or less, and not for cislunar space which spans 385,000 kilometers and has different orbital paths. Scientists have pointed out that most activity in cislunar space is largely unmonitored and only self-reported.
Whiting noted that monitoring Earth’s orbit alone is “a huge challenge” but nonetheless the military must be prepared to expand its monitoring capabilities.
Space Operations Command’s Space Delta 2, based in Colorado Springs, focuses on space domain awareness but not cislunar space. The Space Force recently designated the 19th Space Defense Squadron, a new unit based in Dahlgren, Virginia, to support xGEO monitoring. “Their job now is to partner with other organizations,” he said, including NASA, academic institutions and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
AFRL plans to launch experimental surveillance satellite known as CHPS in lunar orbit in a few years. This mission “will help us understand how to do space domain awareness from lunar orbit…and understand how to conduct operations,” Whiting said.
“There are pockets of cislunar and xGEO excellence and we are working with each of them to create a community of interest and then start developing a picture of what is happening in lunar space,” he said. declared.
Today, the Space Force is almost entirely focused on ground operations, Whiting said, “but as commerce, NASA and other countries start going to the Moon and beyond, we will need to rotate up and out for these orbital regimes”.
Whiting said NASA would be the military’s primary partner for xGEO surveillance. “As they execute their civilian science mission and we execute our national defense mission, there are areas of overlap where we can help each other.”
A signed 2020 agreement by the Space Force and NASA alludes to NASA’s plans to expand the human presence beyond the International Space Station to the lunar surface and interplanetary destinations. It says the Space Force will seek to provide resources to protect American interests so that astronauts can operate “safely on these distant frontiers.”
Air Force “Project Rocket” Focuses on xGEO
In a presentation last week at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, senior air force and Space Force officials were briefed on Project Rocket, an Air Force-funded experiment that examined the challenges of tracking objects in space beyond Earth orbit.
The project was led by a group of officers selected for the blue horizons scholarship, created to help military leaders develop entrepreneurial skills and examine the impact of technology on national security.
“We came up with the idea of focusing on how to provide a combat commander with the ability to track adversary activity in xGEO,” said Lt. Col. Phoenix Torrijos, an intelligence and intelligence officer. the Alien Zone that ran Project Rocket.
The task of the 12 agents who worked on the project was to understand how objects in xGEO could be located and tracked using existing sensors.
They started last summer, and over 10 months, with a budget of around $1 million, the team was able to identify and track China’s Chang’e 5 orbiter and the QueQiao relay satellite – a communications relay and a radio satellite used by China for the Chang’e 4 lunar far side mission. They also tracked India’s Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2 lunar exploration missions, several NASA missions and the James Webb Space Telescope. All of these objects were tracked for four weeks.
They used optical, passive radio frequency (RF) and radar assets from the US Military Space Surveillance Network – a collection of ground-based radars, telescopes and space sensors that track objects in Earth’s orbit – and telescopes operated by universities and private companies. .
Major Jason Utulo, one of the group members, said the goal was to try to be innovative with existing technology to lean into xGEO rather than “waiting for the next exquisite technological advancement”. Another goal was to understand the skills and training the Space Force will need in the future in order to gain xGEO space domain awareness. Utulo is a Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft navigator and is heading to US Space Command for his next mission.
The next phase of Project Rocket will be to transfer the work to military space organizations responsible for actual operations, such as Space Delta 2, the 19th Space Defense Squadron, and U.S. Space Command’s Joint Space Defense Task Force.
The plan is for military operators to continue practicing tracking xGEO objects by taking advantage of the cislunar missions that NASA plans to launch, such as CAPSTONE and several others under Artemis program, Torrijos said. “With their flight plans and mission profiles, we will be able to force our sensors to track and follow these mission sets in xGeo.”
In the longer term, the goal is to produce a “combatant commander job concept on how we can track objects in xGEO using capabilities that already exist,” she added. “We understand that more holistic solutions are in the early stages of development, but until our acquisition cycle catches up with our operational reality, Project Rocket intends to develop a ‘today’ solution for outreach. to the xGEO spatial domain.”