Neighborhood Watch

The Air Force is moving forward with plans to assess the utility of placing sensors on satellites in order to help operators gauge what’s going on around the spacecraft, Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, Space and Missile Systems Center commander, told reporters Monday afternoon at AFA’s Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. The Air Force refers to this capability as SASSA, or self-awareness space situational awareness. It falls under the space protection rubric. “We have at least one opportunity where we are going to be putting SASSA on a classified host as an initial step,” said Pawlikowski, declining to provide any additional details. The Air Force also is “in discussions with a number of the commercial providers” about placing similar types of sensors on commercial satellites, she said, referring to this approach as a kind of a “neighborhood watch.” Such sensors would increase the Air Force’s knowledge of whether some natural phenomenon is affecting a satellite or if some hostile actor is up to something nefarious against it. Palikowski said the Air Force had “a long-term look” at architectures in the space-protection world “that has helped to inform us a lot about what we need to do.” Beyond space situational awareness, the Air Force really doesn’t discuss its space protection activities publicly.