Army mulls satellite partners for ‘Lonestar’ GPS interference warning system

The Army’s experimental Gunsmoke-L (Lonestar) CubeSats are designed to warn commanders of GPS interference. (Illustration: Dynetics)

WASHINGTON — After beginning in-orbit operations in July, the Army is evaluating the results of experimental satellite technology designed to directly notify soldiers on the ground when GPS signals have been disrupted or compromised.

the army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) launched one of two Gunsmoke-L CubeSats to test the Lonestar sensor design, from which the “L” designation is derived. And while there’s still some way to go in evaluating the sensor’s performance, the SMDC is already wondering who – whether the National Reconnaissance Office, the Space Force and/or commercial partners – might agree to host the Lonestar payloads should the system prove ready to tackle real-world operations.

“If the payload develops into an operational capability, it would provide situational awareness information directly to the tactical combatant on the ground from space. As a payload, Lonestar could adapt to a wide variety of buses as a potential multi-mission satellite. The SMDC is exploring options for a potential transition,” SMDC spokeswoman Lira Frye told Breaking Defense.

“To clarify, the [current] the satellite and payload are an experiment, so this is not an operational satellite for the military, but rather an opportunity to assess the usefulness of a capability by tactical users,” said she added. “The bus immediately worked as expected. We now characterize and analyze the performance of the payload.

Although details are classified, Gunsmoke-L is part of a set of three experimental CubeSat initiatives designed to help Army field units gain faster direct support from space.

The second, called Polaris, also aims to provide positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) in the event of a problem at the GPS corral, but aims squarely to play the role of deputy sheriff by offering an alternative if the GPS fails.

The third initiative is the Gunsmoke-J CubeSat series, designed to spot payloads beyond the horizon to power the military’s “long-range precision fires” capabilities, including hypersonic missile launchers – A fundamental requirement for Project Convergence, the service’s effort to develop Joint All Domain Command and Control Capabilities (JADC2).

One of the Gunsmoke-L demonstration satellites, launched July 1 into low Earth orbit (operating at an altitude of around 300 miles) as part of Virgin Orbit’s “Straight Up” mission carrying its tiny 6U Lonestar payload , about the size of a man’s shirt box. Dynetics, a subsidiary of Leidos, received $8.3 million to develop two of the payloads, and a spokesperson explained today that a second CubeSat will be launched at an unspecified future date.

While Lonestar’s capability is undisputed under Project Convergence, Frye said “there are other military and joint exercises that we plan to participate in throughout the year.”

Along with the results of planned Army exercises, Dynetics will provide SMDC with all technical data and analysis provided by Lonestar throughout the year-long project to help the service determine requirements for any follow-on hosted payload release. potential.

Over the past few years, the military has consistently maintained that it has no intention of building its own satellites, but rather plans to host its own payloads – controlled directly by soldiers – on other satellites. . Potential partners include the National Reconnaissance Office, Space Force and/or commercial companies.

In particular, the Space Development Agency (currently under the Office of the Secretary of Defense but soon to be realigned under Space Force) could be a candidate to host military payloads. SDA already has an agreement with the military to use the TITAN Mobile Land System to provide transport layer command and control for SDA to enable it to serve as the JADC2 communications backbone.

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