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Exploring outer space with SitSat

Outer space is being used more and more by both civilian and military stakeholders. This includes armasuisse Science and Technology, which was able to develop a prototype for an operational picture of outer space for the Swiss Armed Forces. This allows the situation of all known satellites to be displayed and tracked at any location in the world.

28.06.2023 | Nicola Venturi, Research Management and Operations Research, and Jens Rehanek, Innovation and Processes, armasuisse Science and Technology

A tablet running the SitSat application

SitSat is a prototype and represents an operational picture of outer space. It enables the situation of all known satellites to be displayed and analysed at any location in the world and in any time frame.

Industrial nations are making ever greater use of the near-Earth outer space environment. In addition to a steadily rising number of commercial users, this space is also being increasingly developed by the military. Space-based systems are being used in real time for defence purposes, in particular for communication, early warning systems, reconnaissance and operational pictures as well as localisation and navigation. Due to the increasing military usage of outer space, it is also essential for the Swiss Armed Forces to know the situation and operations in outer space.

Knowing what happens in outer space

For these reasons, specialists from the Operations Research and System Analysis area (ORSA) of Science and Technology (S+T) have developed a prototype together with an external partner. This prototype known as SitSat – short for situation of the satellite – enables the situation of all known satellites, based on the Armed Forces’ database, to be displayed and analysed at any location in the world and in any time frame. It can also be determined whether and in what time frame the selected location is visible for a satellite, taking into account its reconnaissance technology, and whether a connection to a communications satellite is possible. Here, SitSat includes both the prevailing weather conditions as well as topographical features in the calculations.

Handover to the Swiss Armed Forces

The SitSat prototype was tested at the beginning by members of the Armed Forces for practice purposes. This test phase was successfully concluded in 2022. armasuisse S+T’s active participation also ends with this test phase and the findings from it, because, based on the collected findings of the Armed Forces, the SitSat prototype is now to be handed over to the newly established Swiss Innovation Forces as part of an innovation project on behalf of the Joint Operations Command. The goal is to implement an operationally deployable solution which can subsequently be made available to the Swiss Armed Forces.

The Swiss Innovation Forces now aim to develop two different versions of the SitSat in the next upcoming steps. An initial version, in the form of an application for tablets and smartphones, is intended for the troops as well as for planning, command and control at the level of battalion. This version only has the most basic functions, such as information on overpass times and the capabilities of the satellites, in order to gain situational awareness quickly at a tactical level.

A second and more comprehensive version in the form of a web application is planned for the situation monitoring for the outer space area of the Swiss Armed Forces. This version contains extensions for planning military operations and detailed situation monitoring. The focus is on the option of selecting from several different satellites and locations at the same time, both graphically with mapping as well as analytically with tables for further analyses, in order to obtain a comprehensive operational picture.

SitSat, a joint project

The development of SitSat represents a successful example of an innovation project and the good collaboration between armasuisse S+T and the consumer. armasuisse S+T was thus able to support the consumer in identifying a solution in the area of the operational picture of outer space and to test its suitability. 

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