Bridging the final frontier: Ensuring connectivity, progress and peace in the space age

As government operations move further into deep space, agencies need the right capabilities for awareness, connectivity and safety.

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Humans are more connected with space than ever before. Increased excitement, interest and federal investment into cosmic exploration has paved the way for rapid technological advancements. As a result, a proliferation of space networks, satellites and communications infrastructure around the Earth and in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) has significantly bolstered communication capabilities for those exploring the final frontier.

“We're already in a state today where we can expect that people in space are going to be connected seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” states David Cunniff, space strategist for Peraton, a leading space technology company. “Basically, space has never been a safer place for humans because you can count on that constant communication to be present for your mission.”

However, as the government works to evolve and expand operations into the vastness of deep space, existing infrastructure tends to taper off. There are a limited number of ground stations beyond the moon that can relay important information to astronauts, such as what time it is onboard their vehicle or flight distance to a particular location.

This lack of context can hinder the effectiveness of time-sensitive operations, like, for example, if a vehicle’s camera must capture an event or phenomenon in a specific place and time. Given the speed with which objects in space travel, even just a half-second discrepancy could result in a missed opportunity to collect science and complete the mission.

“The biggest challenge in space is: How do we extend that space support infrastructure out so that everything going to the moon, Mars and outer planets has the same level of connectivity, and situational awareness — what we call space domain awareness — that we enjoy here closer to Earth?” explains Cunniff.

Peraton: A pioneer in space exploration

Peraton's role as critical communications partner for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uniquely positions it to address the complexities of deep space travel.

The company provides essential operations and maintenance to both relay satellites and ground stations for NASA’s Near Space Network. Additionally, since 2004, Peraton has worked closely with the agency’s Deep Space Network on historic projects, such as “helping the James Webb Space Telescope communicate across the cosmos, linking mankind and the moon, as well as supporting the Perseverance rover on Mars.”

“We don't just maintain systems for the government, we also help develop and operate some of the nation's most critical space infrastructure,” says Cunniff. “Having that insight lets us keep a clear eye on where things are going in terms of technologies and mission interests and allows us to figure out how we can best achieve the goals of our nation and people in general.”

On the journey to deep space, Peraton equips missions with real-time operational visibility and space domain awareness through Darkwatch. Darkwatch pulls data from a variety of sources to supply teams with a comprehensive view, allowing users to fully evaluate the environment around them, determine the location of all assets and manage custody.

“Say you have a potential collision predicted between two space vehicles, you want to be able to know for sure, not only what those vehicles are doing right now in time, but where they're going to be in a day, in a week, in a month,” says Cunniff. “Our tool allows that broader visibility.”

Darkwatch is able to maintain custody, even through large maneuvers, which is essential in detecting, tracking and monitoring adversarial activity, particularly incursions or attempted incursions that occur during sensor deadband periods or communications outages.

“When it comes down to it, there's really two main objectives anytime you send something to space,” says Cunniff. “You want to know where things are and you want to know what they're doing. Our Darkwatch tool, combined with our artificial intelligence engines, help us achieve both of those objectives.”

With these capabilities, Darkwatch is able to help determine what an object in space actually is and who it belongs to. By studying behaviors in space, observable characteristics of an object can be identified, becoming that object’s unique fingerprint, so to speak.

Facilitating a safe future in space

Although the goal of space exploration will always be peaceful, space as a contested domain is becoming an unavoidable part of the nation's future — with some defense agencies already developing space battle management plans.

“When we think about sending people into space, we have to be mindful that we're sending people into a potentially contested area,” explains Cunniff, noting that along with conflict, even just debris from destructive events could put individuals in harm’s way.

With a higher likelihood of adverse situations, it's imperative to have trusted mission partners like Peraton to provide guidance and capabilities that maintain consistent awareness, avoid and counter threats if necessary and ensure a secure space environment overall.

“Our Darkwatch tool, AI tools and space domain awareness tools help safeguard our astronauts' health and the safety of space tourists and commercial astronauts,” Cunniff says. “So that we know where everything is, and we know to the largest extent possible how everything is functioning in space.”

By now, it’s clear that space is an integral part of the global future. As agency leaders work with international counterparts to engage in more robust regulation and governance, strategic partnerships and advanced technologies become ever more crucial in sustainably navigating the final frontier.

Joseph Diamond, a senior architect in Peraton’s National Security Space business unit, summed up the benefits of robust space domain awareness in this way: “'We help ensure that awareness of actions being taken in the space domain are trustworthy and current, so that appropriate responses can be effectively executed.” 

“We want space to be a place where every spacefaring nation can go and find success,” says Cunniff. “I think that's only going to happen through a strong international regulation environment where everybody knows what's expected of everybody else and everybody follows the rules. Because we can all benefit if everyone follows the rules.”

Peraton's Darkwatch and other space domain awareness tools are a vital part of our nation's ability to monitor the space environment.

Learn more about Peraton’s work to ensure safe and successful space missions.

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