Front Page
Boeing Frontiers
December 2003/January 2004
Volume 02, Issue 08
Boeing Frontiers
Cover Story


Above: Boeing Phantom Works is developing the Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) satellite as part of the Orbital Express Program. A future demonstration of the Orbital Express is intended to show the capability to service and refuel other satellites in orbit. (Boeing Graphic)
In the 19th century, the global projection of economic and military might hinged on control of the sea. For much of the last century, dominance came from the air.

At the dawn of this millennium, the strategic focus is shifting to another new medium. The advent of new space-based networked communications, navigation, surveillance and weapons systems is redefining control of what is the ultimate in high ground.

"Space as a place and medium is not completely unique per se," suggested George Muellner, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems senior vice president and general manager of Air Force Systems. "Look at the history of the sea and how this affected commerce and its significance to economic progress. It allowed great seafaring nations to do things their peers couldn't. That model is not at all different from how space will play out."

Space is not an entirely new frontier for humankind, with the first Sputnik satellite having circled the Earth almost 50 years ago. The utilization of space and its importance to everyday terrestrial activity is growing rapidly, though, and today some 38 nations have placed close to 3,000 payloads into orbit. The benchmark to become a space power in the future will hinge on assured access, orbital persistence and, ultimately, space control.

The U.S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle has been structured to lower the cost of getting to orbit by 25 to 50 percent. But it's still a one-time-use rocket, and getting it into space requires six to 12 months of pre-mission planning. For the military facing new and rapidly changing threats, the requirement is for a more dynamic response capability that can be measured in a few hours.

"The only way to break the paradigm and lower costs and response times is through a reusable launch system," Muellner suggested. "Single-stage-to-orbit technology for now is unattainable, but two-stage-to-orbit, combining air-breathing scramjets and rockets, is becoming more viable. Ideally, the first stage would operate like an aircraft and be a robust enough design that in the event of a subsystem failure it would degrade gracefully."

Boeing is supporting a number of technology efforts in support of this goal, including the National Aerospace Initiative to produce a test vehicle capable of flying up to Mach 10 and the Space Launch Initiative for finding a successor to the Space Shuttle. Boeing is part of a NASA/industry team that's developing the scaled X-43 Hyper-X hypersonic demonstrator, while Boeing Phantom Works has produced the unmanned X-37 reusable space plane, which is due to begin atmospheric drop tests in 2004 and could be launched from a Delta IV or Atlas V rocket in 2006.

Increased attention also is being paid to the future sustainment of payloads once in orbit, with the selection of Boeing last year by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to design and develop the Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations satellite, as part of the Orbital Express Program. The Orbital Express demonstration is intended to show the capability to service and refuel other satellites in orbit.

George Muellner"The big benefit of having fuel onboard gives you the ability to maneuver satellites in order to optimize coverage and reduce the size of constellations," Muellner explained.

Altering the orbital inclination, or plane, requires considerable energy. As a result, most satellites remain in regular periodic orbits that are easy to predict and avoid when overhead. For the military, there is an increasing demand for persistence when conducting surveillance of enemy movements on the ground or tracking emerging threats. A significant element of this from around 2015 onwards will come from the planned Space Based Radar constellation, which will provide a 24-hour, all-weather surveillance capability.

Systems like SBR, along with Global Positioning System, satellite communications, infrared early warning and imagery satellites, are increasingly making space an indispensable part of the military's find, fix, track, target, engage and assess "kill chain."

"If a target moves, SBR is going to find it, and, more importantly, know the starting and destination points and any change in direction," Muellner said. "The addition of SBR will give us a 24-hour global persistency. The only thing it won't be able to do is engage. This system will collaborate with airborne and ground-based sensors in providing global situational awareness to our networked warfighters."

The rapid growth in and demand for situational awareness data is quickly straining the current communications infrastructure. In the years between the first Gulf War in 1991 and 2001's Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, there was a sixfold increase in the demand for bandwidth. Boeing's near-term solution to this data bottleneck is the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite, due to begin fielding in 2005. One WGS will provide more capacity than the entire current Defense Satellite Communications System constellation. Boeing is also competing to provide a longer-term solution in the form of the Transformational Communications Architecture. Targeted for 2010 and beyond, TCA will provide a joint integrated communications network employing laser and Radio Frequency communications to tie together all U.S. space-and ground-based assets. "This effectively provides the same interconnected interconnected layer of communications as we have terrestrially with fiber optics, but in space with a broadband capability many orders of magnitude greater than what exists today," Muellner said.

With the growing U.S. and allied military reliance on space for communications, navigation, surveillance and weapons targeting, space control is becoming an essential consideration. This includes space surveillance, or the ability to look at other potential hostile orbiting systems, as well as detect and defend against enemy efforts at interfering with U.S. space-based sensors and aids, such as GPS.

"We will need to protect our access to and use of space in much the same way we do the sea, through a combination of offensive and defensive measures," Muellner said. "People who think that space will be an area of sanctuary do not appreciate the economic and national power elements that influence nations. Control of space in the future will therefore be essential."


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