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First Space Prime effort to focus on ‘smart' networked spacecraft

The first effort of the US Air Force (USAF)/US Space Force (USSF) Space Prime programme will focus on smart, or networked, spacecraft, according to a Pentagon official.

Gabe Mounce, Space Prime lead, told Janes on 22 January that the programme wants to enable a higher degree of autonomous, independent spacecraft operations to demonstrate how they might quickly observe, identify, and make autonomous decisions leading to actions. This would enable a host of operational paradigms both in the commercial sector and for government missions sets. These include on-orbit servicing, space debris mitigation, and in-space manoeuvring, among others.

Smart devices are connected to other devices or networks by wireless networking protocols that allow them to interact with each other. Smart devices are commonly referred to as being part of the internet-of-things (IoT).

Mounce said that the majority of spacecraft on orbit are not smart, and are not necessarily smartly networked. This is because most spacecraft are still commanded by manual input from the ground.

Mounce said this is changing with efforts such as Space Exploration Technology Corp’s (SpaceX’s) Starlink satellite constellation, which aims to have 4,409 satellites operating close to the earth for high-speed, low-latency broadband services.

Smart-networked spacecraft, Mounce said, would further advance data and information storage and transport capabilities that further enhance a host of space-based and terrestrial applications.

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