Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

Space ISAC establishes LEO satellite operators group

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson Jun5,2024

WASHINGTON — A group of low Earth orbit satellite operators are banding together to share information about natural and human-made threats to their spacecraft.

The Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or Space ISAC, announced April 9 the formation of the LEO Owner Operators Affinity Group, consisting of Space ISAC members that operate spacecraft in LEO. The group is intended to facilitate sharing of information among those operators about various security threats they face.

Frank Backes, chief executive of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging company Capella Space and the co-chair of the affinity group, said the creation of the group was prompted by the desire to bring together companies that are facing similar challenges to operations specific to LEO.

“The primary drive is to bring together the thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit, because we are seeing all sorts of threats to the environment that we’re in,” he said in an interview during the 39th Space Symposium.

One example is a natural phenomenon: increased atmospheric drag caused by enhanced space weather activity that reduces the lifetime of spacecraft. “What we’re trying to do is bring that kind of information together,” he said, sharing information among operators rather than relying solely on forecasts.

“We’re also seeing direct threats from adversaries against our satellites,” he said. “Communicating about those, talking about how to mitigate them, is way more effective when we work with each other.”

Capella also announced it was formally joining Space ISAC as a founding member. “Founding members can speak on behalf of the organization, and so that’s an important component when setting the strategy of the space ISAC and where it’s going,” he said.

Backes is no stranger to the organization, helping found it five years ago in his previous role at Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, including serving as chairman of the board and president of the organization. He became chief executive of Capella Space six months ago after the founding CEO, Payam Banazadeh, stepped down from the post but remained on the company’s board.

Backes said he was impressed with the maturity of Capella’s overall capabilities. “Going into Capella I did expect a little bit more of a new space startup kind of company. And what I found was a very mature company that has the skills and the experience to build the whole system.”

Capella is seeing demand for its radar imagery “continually growing” across commercial, civil and national security space sectors. He added he was encouraged by the Space Force’s commercial space strategy released April 10 that outlined how the service would make greater use of commercial capabilities but wants to know more about how it will implement it.

“We will be waiting for the obvious follow-up steps, which include budget planning and acquisition,” he said. “I think we’re beyond needing to do study contracts to prove that commercial Earth observation is relevant. There is no question that we offer value.”

Capella is continuing to build out its constellation, launching its latest satellite, Capella-14, on SpaceX’s Bandwagon-1 mid-inclination rideshare mission April 7. The company released the first images from the spacecraft April 16 after completing post-launch commissioning of the satellite.

Backes said he has a “very positive” experience launching on SpaceX’s first dedicated mid-inclination rideshare mission. “It has opened the door from an economics perspective to be able to launch more satellites. The cost of launch isn’t more than our satellite anymore.”

However, Capella plans to continue launching satellites on dedicated flights of Rocket Lab’s Electron as well. “For us, it’s about who can take our satellite to where we need to go in the most economical fashion,” he said. “If you can put me into exactly the right inclination at exactly the right altitude, I save fuel that might translate into six months more life in orbit. Six months pays for the launch.”

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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2 thoughts on “Space ISAC establishes LEO satellite operators group”
  1. Space ISAC’s initiative to form the LEO Owner Operators Affinity Group is crucial for satellite operators in LEO to collectively address security threats. Sharing information about environmental risks and mitigation strategies is essential to protect our spacecraft.

  2. As a satellite operator myself, I believe that forming a dedicated group to share information about threats to LEO spacecraft is a crucial step in ensuring the security and longevity of our missions. It’s encouraging to see industry leaders recognizing the importance of collaboration in facing the challenges unique to operations in low Earth orbit.

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