Artificial Intelligence Revolutionizes Space Domain Awareness, U.S. Military Cautious in Adoption

Artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping the space industry, with space domain awareness (SDA) being one area significantly impacted. SDA refers to the understanding and knowledge of activities occurring in space. By leveraging AI, vast amounts of data from space sensors can be rapidly analyzed, enabling the identification of anomalies or potential threats.

Commercial SDA services are emerging as AI capabilities advance. ExoAnalytic Solutions, a company operating a global network of optical sensors, offers satellite tracking services to geostationary orbit operators. For a monthly fee ranging from $1,000 to $4,500 per satellite, the company provides timely information to ensure satellite safety. Slingshot Aerospace has also introduced an AI tool capable of detecting unusual satellite behavior and identifying potential anti-satellite weapons.

While the U.S. Space Force, responsible for military space domain awareness, is refining its plan to leverage these commercial innovations, it remains cautious in adopting commercial SDA technologies. Traditional defense contractors still dominate military SDA programs, with most spending allocated to government-owned sensors, according to a report by Booz Allen Hamilton.

The military is experimenting with AI tools to orchestrate sensor tasking based on specific threats or concerns. The goal is to streamline data processing by leveraging AI for broader tasks. However, effective integration of these new services remains a challenge, as the military seeks to understand the market forces and dynamics of the commercial sector.

The Space Force’s commercial strategy aims to explore partnerships with industry and seeks capabilities from the commercial sector to enhance SDA generation. However, the government tends to maintain control over sensor operation and data collection. Commercial SDA insights can provide significant value from a transparency standpoint, as demonstrated when ExoAnalytic Solutions shared crucial data on China’s space capabilities in early 2022.

To keep up with the evolving space environment, the Space Force faces the challenge of ensuring access to up-to-date data feeds from multiple sensors. AI systems require sufficient data to yield powerful orbital intelligence. This necessitates significant investments in sensor technology and data collection capabilities from both government agencies and private sector companies.

Brien Flewelling, Director of Strategic Program Development at ExoAnalytic Solutions, emphasizes the need for collaboration with the industry, particularly in training AI and machine learning models. Acknowledging the skills gap, Flewelling highlights the importance of working together to avoid being outpaced by countries like China.