January 25, 2022

The Rhea Space Activity will create a cislunar space ‘dashboard’ for the United States Air Force

2 min read

According to the company, the US Air Force has renewed a research deal with Rhea Space Activity to build a software application to monitor and anticipate the trajectory of the satellites in cislunar space. For a “lunar intelligence dashboard,” RSA received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 award last year. The new Phase 2 award of $697,000 will be used to continue this project, which is also being supported by private investors.

“We’re trying to better understand cislunar space and how to monitor it for defense objectives,” Shawn Usman, the founder of RSA, told SpaceNews. According to a recent analysis from the United States Air Force Research Laboratory, the area of space between the moon and Earth, termed as cislunar space, is considered as next military frontier.

This poses a problem for the US military’s space surveillance systems, which are built on the Earth-centric reference orbits in which objects follow a predictable pattern. Because orbits do not recur in cislunar space, predicting the course of objects is much more difficult. “This adds to the difficulties of determining future satellite positions in cislunar space,” stated RSA physicist Cameo Lance. “In cislunar space, there is practically an endless number of trajectories.”

On this project, RSA is collaborating with Saber Astronautics and Purdue University. Kathleen Howell, a professor at Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is noted for her contributions in dynamical systems theory used to spacecraft trajectory design for NASA missions. “We’re very enthusiastic to work on trajectories that will help the United States Space Force monitor cislunar space,” she said.

Saber Astronautics creates software for viewing the space environment, which is employed in dashboard development. SpaceFund, a venture capital firm, is the newest investor in RSA. Meagan Crawford, who serves as the managing partner of the SpaceFund, predicts a rise in demand for cislunar monitoring equipment for both national security as well as the commercial space economy.

According to Usman, the US military will require intelligence to assist predict trajectory of spacecraft that might one day be placed in cislunar space and endanger US satellites in the geostationary zone around Earth. “We’re especially interested in the cislunar trajectories that may affect the geostationary belt,” Usman explained. “As you understand, the geostationary belt is host to several very expensive satellites.”

The US Space Force would utilize the lunar intelligence dashboard to “explore all these alternative trajectories in the cislunar realm,” he said. The technology is being developed by RSA utilizing open-source data. Today, tracking things in cislunar space is a “very time-consuming process,” according to Lance. During Phase 1 of the study, Purdue University researchers were successful in mapping a multi-loop trajectory that forms a retrograde orbit, she added. “We found that to be the best orbit for a constellation of the surveillance satellites to monitor cislunar space and the geostationary belt.”

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