One of the principal issues identified by Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of US Space Command, in an August 9 presentation at the 35th Small Satellite conference is guaranteeing that small satellites can connect not only within their constellations but also within a broader ecosystem. In an interview with Pat Patterson, director and chair of the advanced concepts at Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory in charge of the Small Satellite Conference, Shaw remarked, “If small satellites are communicating to each other, it’s not much of a leap to say well, it needs to communicate into a bigger architecture.”
Small satellites could eventually provide a clear image of what’s going on in space, similar to what Google Maps or Waze do, by combining data from various sensors reporting their positions. Shaw believes that tiny interoperable satellites could offer similar information on the entire space environment.
Furthermore, Shaw stated that the US military is engaged in investigating the advantages of small satellite operations outside low Earth orbit (LEO). According to Shaw, small satellites are probably to operate in geostationary orbit and even lunar orbit, whether in smaller numbers or vast constellations. “How does that appear?” Shaw was the one who inquired. “How are we going to get there?”
The issue of disposal arises when small satellites are moved beyond low Earth orbit. Satellite operators must ensure that when their spacecraft age, they do not create a “navigational hazard,” according to Shaw. Because the number of satellites and the amount of junk in low Earth orbit are continuously increasing, sustainability is becoming a serious concern. “We should all be mindful that as we proceed to put objects up in space, it will get increasingly congested,” Shaw warned. He added, “We don’t want to reach a situation where” the amount of trash in orbit raises the chance of a space collision.
Developers and owners of satellites should consider alternatives to end-of-life disposal. Satellites should be constructed to avoid “falling apart when they become old, or things occur aboard the satellites,” according to Shaw. “Overall, the satellite’s entire lifecycle must be developed with a focus on sustainability.”
Similarly, satellite activities should address cybersecurity regularly. “I hate to be pessimistic, but I believe it’s only a question of the time of time before we view some of the cyber challenges that we’ve seen on the ground manifest themselves in the space field, whether it’s a ransomware strike on the commercial space system or perhaps an infiltration of a commercial constellation’s command and control system,” Shaw said. “Those are important threats on which we must concentrate our efforts.”