The first satellite, Sputnik, was launched in 1957. Today, about 3500 active satellites in orbit support use cases ranging from weather to warfare though a complex system of terrestrial and space-based sensors, data links, processors etc. In addition to position, navigation and timing, space systems provide unprecedented processed information, communications and earth observation functions for both commercial and military users.
Armed forces were the primary user of Space-based services during the early years of the Space era now described as ‘Old Space’. This was characterized by public funded, customised ‘heavy’ satellites designed for a lifespan of several decades, requiring complex engineering, testing and expensive launch vehicles. Also it was mostly funded and executed by the state agencies.
By the early 2010s, as the commercial potential of space-based observation became apparent, private industry invested in innovative projects and multiple product offerings in a variety of activities. This trend, labelled ‘New Space’, set the scene to build small satellites at scale which paired with quick-launch capabilities dramatically lowered prices and increased availability of satellites. Concurrently technologies such as smart materials, IoT, EDGE, 5G, Industry 4.0, AI, ICT disrupted the Old Space Business Model. From a few satellites a year companies began launching several thousand satellites since 2018.
The advantage of ‘New Space’ – buying solutions rather than assets with reduced investment cost and shortened procurement lead time – has not yet been leveraged by the military establishment. The key challenges that confront its early adoption is that commoditised satellites are not necessarily optimized for specific military requirements of data encryption, reliability, availability and access in combat.
Some examples of what New Space technologies can provide include:-
- Monitor enemy airfields centered around own air base on a persistent basis.
- Geolocate and identify ground targets such as artillery, radars etc. and direct precision fire.
- Detect, monitor and identify adversary warships and submarines and illegal shipping and fishing.
- Blending space-based and traditional air defence data for detecting Hypersonic missile launches and tracking ballistic missile platforms and launchers.
The other New Space disruption could be for armed forces to launch low cost cheap short duration satellites on demand and purpose for the specific operational task. Launch of ‘containerised” integral mission specific satellites from existing missile launchers may be a possibility. Tactical ISR assets will be governed by assets addressing data storage in space; inter-satellite data relay networks; analytics in orbit on streaming data all of which would require surveillance and security.
Pre-operations on land at sea now requires establishing and maintaining a stable space capability for regular operations to proceed. Additionally, space is now heavily congested and contested. After WWII the blue water navies ensured smooth free flow of trade. Similarly, a space force will need to ensure democratised and rule bound outer space trade/travel. This may require defending assets in space or having redundancy or rapid replacement to sustain missions which require space domain awareness.
Space is a frontier where India has already made significant inroads. The Indian Space Research organization, ISRO, has been in the forefront of a highly professional and determined approach to successfully build a strong foundation to the nations space program. Established in 1969, ISRO has propelled India into an elite club of nations, having achieved significant success in exploring outer space and in turn, supporting the nation’s security apparatus.
The Department of Space has issued a landmark National Space Transportation Policy, on 24 June 2021, which opens up huge opportunities for Indian entities to participate in not only the national but also the global space business. SAMDeS intends to prepare a detailed response to the Policy and welcomes suggestions and comments for inclusion in the response.
An E-symposium on ‘New Space Technologies for National Defence’ is planned which will involve stakeholders from ISRO, industry and academia from India and abroad, and the three Services.
- Explore technologies that can provide launch on demand and purpose down to the operational levels.
- Explore advances in Earth Observation, PNT and Communications technology for warfighting.
- In orbit cataloguing and prediction of satellites movements and monitoring of space assets for domain awareness.