A new contract by U.S. Strategic Command’s space organization shows the U.S. military’s attention to a growing problem for government and commercial satellite operators: radio-frequency interference.
On Oct. 24, the Joint Functional Component Command for Space awarded Kratos Defense and Security Solutions of San Diego a $6.2-million contract to expand its satellite radio-frequency monitoring service to cover all the commercial Ku-band and C-band communications bandwidth U.S. military combatant commands lease in addition to helping the military pinpoint the cause of X-band interference in specific locations. Currently, Kratos monitors radio-frequency signals, detects interference, and finds the culprit for U.S. Central Command and Pacific Command. Under the new contract, Kratos will provide similar services for the U.S. European, Africa, Northern and Southern Commands.
Every discussion of space situational awareness begins with a definition. For many government and commercial satellite operators, the term refers to anything that can degrade or disrupt service, including radio-frequency interference, a problem that is growing due to increasingly congested orbits and the popularity of high- throughput satellites capable of communicating with very-small-aperture terminals.
“All these things lead to increased opportunities for interference, so understanding your radio frequency environment and managing it becomes critical,” said Stuart Daughtridge, vice president for advanced technology at Kratos Defense and Security Solutions of San Diego.
High-throughput satellites concentrate their transmissions through powerful spot beams designed to communicate with small and mobile antennas on the ground. “As a result, when something is off pointed, or a piece of equipment is broken and putting out a signal at the wrong frequency, the interference challenge is that much greater,” Daughtridge said.
Another interference problem stems from changes in the way ground terminals are being installed. Small, inexpensive ground antennas often are installed around the world by technicians without extensive training. “As a result, you have more installation problems that result in interference,” Daughtridge said.
To address the changing radio frequency environment, Kratos is turning to data analysis. “We analyze trends, indications and warning to predict where you are going to have more problems and when you are not,” Daughtridge said.
Kratos operates a global network of sensors to monitor radio frequency signals, detect interference and geolocate the cause of the interference for government and commercial customers. As a result of the new contract with the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, Kratos plans to install seven new monitoring sites, housing more than 60 antennas to focus on more than 50 satellites.