The U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) ATLAS is to be operational by the spring of next year, and the service expects the system by L3Harris Technologies [LHX] to lead to a dramatic increase in the speed of processing and integrating space domain awareness data from a variety of commercial, civil, and military space sensors.
Omitron and Parsons Corp. [PSN] are subcontractors on USSF Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) ATLAS, which is to replace the Space Defense Operations Center (SPADOC), a space situational awareness computer system established in 1979 at the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado. The Air Force last upgraded SPADOC in 1989.
ATLAS is to harness machine-to-machine interfaces to accelerate the provision of space domain awareness data to USSF personnel.
In October 2018, SMC, then part of the U.S. Air Force, awarded a $53 million contract to L3Harris for ATLAS, a program that has slipped under the radar of military space analysts and journalists until now.
While USSF has a target date of next spring for fielding ATLAS, SMC’s contract with L3Harris for ATLAS is valid through 2023, as “there is other functionality and optimization we would continue to work beyond that date ,” Col. Jennifer Krolikowski, senior materiel leader for SMC Enterprise Corps Space Command and Control, wrote in a May 4th email.
On May 3rd, Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, the deputy commander of USSF’s Space Operations Command, said that SMC’s biggest limiting factor in improving space domain awareness is SPADOC and that ATLAS’ integration of ground-based and space-based sensor inputs from commercial, civil, and military users will lead to “huge leaps in our space domain awareness capabilities” (Defense Daily, May 3).
Begun in 2009, the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System (JMS) was an earlier SMC effort to replace SPADOC, but the Air Force cancelled JMS in 2019 after it faced technical and cost challenges. JMS was to process and integrate inputs from a variety of sensors, including Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] ground-based Space Fence radar. Omitron was a subcontractor on JMS’ Increment 2–the effort to make JMS operational.
USSF Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond and Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of U.S. Space Command, “have been working years to replace” SPADOC, which is “built on a Cold War mentality and a very limited set of data,” Burt said on May 3rd. “As we get to ATLAS, it’s going to allow us to do more apps, do more digital work, to then take in all those non-traditional data sources machine-to-machine and allow for the calculations of that.”
Brian Weeden, a space analyst and the director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, has written that SPADOC has severe computational limitations and that SPADOC’s user interface “predates modern graphical user interfaces and is notoriously difficult to learn, requiring the user to memorize numerous three-letter commands.”
“Until they get ATLAS or whatever else they’re working on fielded, the analysts at the 18th Space Control Squadron [at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.] are still using the legacy [SPADOC] computer systems that were originally due to be replaced in the mid-2000s,” Weeden wrote in a May 3rd email.
ATLAS is part of the Space Force’s Space Command and Control (Space C2) effort–nicknamed Kobayashi Maru in tribute to Star Trek–that began after the demise of JMS.
“Space C2 is the overarching program that is responsible for the C2 of Space Domain Awareness (SDA) capabilities, Battle Management Command and Control, Data Analytics and Visualization for Command and Control, and Theater Support,” Col. Krolikowski wrote in a May 3rd email. “ATLAS falls under the C2 of the SDA mission thread. The FY 2021 budget for Space C2 is $149M and is split among all the mission threads based on warfighter priorities, not just ATLAS.”
Last month, SMC awarded Colorado-based Bluestaq LLC a $280 million contract to develop the Unified Data Library (UDL) for the USSF.
“The UDL serves as the authoritative data source for the USSF,” Gordon Kordyak, the chief of SMC’s Space Domain Awareness division in Colorado Springs, wrote in a May 3rd email. “ATLAS pulls the data from the UDL and converts that data into knowledge that the warfighter can use for their C2 of SDA mission thread (among others).”
On Apr. 30th, SMC awarded Palantir Technologies [PLTR] a $32.5 million contract to develop the Warp Core tech stack by leveraging the Palantir Gotham system to speed the provision of relevant Space C2 information to users. The tech stack is to connect with the USSF’s UDL “to integrate data from across the space enterprise,” SMC said.