GEOINT Small Satellite Constellation Study for Maritime Domain Awareness
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Project Summary: This executive summary combines the work of three theses that researched the feasibility of a small satellite (SmallSat) constellation to increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in support of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). The three theses each focused on one area of a space systems architecture: orbit and constellation; command, control, and communications (C3); and payload sensor and processing. In addition to these three theses, research was also conducted through a directed study effort into the most efficient means of deploying this notional constellation. Our research revealed that no commercial satellite architecture is currently available for leverage, therefore a purposed-built constellation is recommended. A constellation of 180 SmallSats using an Electro-Optical (EO) sensor payload can provide the revisit and resolution needed to meet sponsor requirements. At the time of this study, current C3 and image processing capabilities do not meet project requirements. A cross-linked C3 architecture shows more promise than a ground-based architecture, but no such architecture currently exists. While the technology exists to support the ultimate objective of minimize the time between tasking the system and disseminating the data to the end user, the varying maturity levels of these technologies do not currently support on-orbit processing. With currently available technology and taking cost, the number of satellites per launch, and launch tempo into consideration, the Falcon 9 is the recommended platform to deploy this constellation. Potentially, the entire constellation could be placed into orbit in six launches over the span of two to three months, costing roughly $372M. Our recommended course of action is to invest further research in command, control, and communications; payload sensor; and processing. C3 requires more investigation to identify the optimal system to support the desired constellation's revisit and resolution. The Electro-Optical (EO) sensor restricts imaging to daylight hours, but we recommend researching the potential use of other sensor types such as infrared (IR) or synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for increased imaging opportunity and timeliness. We also recommend further research into automated target recognition because while processing using artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct basic recognition within an image exists, the technology of AI is not mature enough to be completely automated and provide the detailed vessel classification desired by the sponsor. Future research into the optimization of the constellation and launch pattern, as well as the development of smaller launch vehicles with rapid launch tempo capabilities, is also recommended.
NPS NRP Executive Summary
RightsThis publication is a work of the U.S. Government as defined in Title 17, United States Code, Section 101. Copyright protection is not available for this work in the United States.
NPS Report NumberNPS-18-N264-A
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