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Research Program 8 - Space

Research in the area of outer space aims to ensure the demand and capability-based development, preservation and further expansion of the necessary scientific and technological competencies in the operative area of space travel or within the framework of possible alternatives. This includes applications in the areas space situational awareness, precision navigation, information gathering and communications. Particular focus is on the overall view of space, whereby it is important to act as a central point for aspects of space and to aggregate the results of various programmes and activities to combine them into an overall picture for the domain of operations of space.

A satellite orbits the earth
© iStock

The use of space is becoming increasingly important both for civilian and military applications. Due to the increasingly accelerated development of technological capabilities, the digitalisation of various components and the associated miniaturisation, space-based systems (satellites) and applications (services) are gaining even more importance. With the growing networking of society, satellites have become a part of the critical infrastructure for many countries, as numerous central functions of today’s society depend on space-based capabilities. Today’s conflicts not only take place on the ground and in the air but are also contested in electromagnetic space, in cyberspace and also in outer space.

Space-based systems are already of essential importance for the Swiss Armed Forces in various different areas. In order to perform its tasks, the Armed Forces is dependent on services from space, particularly in the form of input for information gathering, command support, precision navigation and for synchronising their systems. To sufficiently protect military missions from reconnaissance from space, an operational picture of space is also required.  Comprehensive technical and scientific expertise is required to expand and acquire the necessary skills. This is created in the Space research program through studies, demonstrators and testing. A high degree of importance is also attached to the initiation of national partnerships in order to obtain access to the required technical and methodological competence. Satellite-based systems and space applications are characterised by a high degree of complexity, so that an overarching understanding of missions and systems is also required.

There is a further need to tap into expertise in order to demonstrate alternatives to space applications, which could enable required military capability by other means. Using this knowledge, it is aimed to clearly demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages as well as the restrictions of alternative capability approaches in the areas of communication, positioning, navigation and time synchronisation, as well as information gathering, with the goal of saving costs and reducing dependencies.

Competence areas

satellites networked as dots above the earth.
© iStock

As in many other technical areas, technological progress in space travel is also advancing at an increasingly rapid pace. In addition, it is not only large countries and governments who are using outer space, but in particular visionary entrepreneurs who are massively driving forward developments in what is known as «New Space». It is therefore essential to precisely monitor the national and international developments as well as to demonstrate the possible consequences on the fulfilment of tasks and on Armed Forces projects in the domain of operations of outer space. The developments need to be pursued systematically and assessed according to aspects such as technical feasibility, availability, deployment, costs and dependence. Typical development examples are: Launcher technologies, rideshare concepts, hosted payloads, drive technologies, high-energy lasers, microwave photonics, terahertz sensors, optical communication, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, autonomous operation and repair and measures extending the lifespan of satellites.

Zimmerwald Observatory of the Astronomical Institute of the University of Bern
© Manu Friederich

Due to the increasing military usage of space, it is also essential for the Swiss Armed Forces to have precise knowledge of the situation and the operations in outer space. In order to create the operational picture of the situation in space, research projects to obtain orbital data and the status of satellites are being carried out. This is performed by active or passive tracking using optical or electromagnetic methods but also using open source or partnership data. The data obtained will be analysed using, amongst other methods, machine learning algorithms, in order to be able to assess the status, intentions or manoeuvres of satellites. Finally, demonstrators will be developed to prepare and present information for various different end users at a strategic, tactical and operative level.

Satellite above the earth
© iStock

To perform its tasks, the Armed Forces are dependent on information and data from space as well as on satellite-based systems. One focus of the research is on assessing the capacities and the limitations of modern satellite applications as well as estimating the performance capabilities of new (commercial) satellites and satellite constellations. A further focus lies in the analysis and assessment of satellite-based connections and in the use of GNSS signals. In the area of information gathering, the possibilities and constraints of the use of artificial intelligence on board a satellite will also be examined. In addition to space applications, possible alternatives such as the use of quasi-stationary high-altitude platforms (pseudo satellites) and terrestrial satellites are also being dealt with in this field of competence.

Satellite data is read out on a computer
© Gorodenkoff Productions OU

A possible future small satellite capability in the Swiss Armed Forces requires the development of technical-scientific expertise in the areas of space segment, ground segment and user segment. The goal of the research program is to support this broad and comprehensive capability structure in the Armed Forces through systematic studies, demonstrators and testing. While competencies at subsystem level exist, particularly on a partnership (industrial) basis, or can be created with their help, understanding of missions and systems constitutes a core part of the Armed Forces’ capabilities. Technological competencies must be created in the area of Mission Systems Engineering which enable space missions to be planned, drafted and assessed. As part of the research program, mission and system studies will be performed, concepts weighted against each other, feasibilities and limitations demonstrated and possible partnerships outlined. 

A satellite soars into space
© iStock

In the area of protection and countermeasures, the Armed Forces must possess skills to elude adversarial action from space. In conjunction with other areas of impact, the research projects focus here on the various aspects of camouflage, fraud and diversion. In addition to the passive measures, it is aimed to also use limited active skills in the domain of operations of outer space. The focus of research here lies in the area of weapons in electromagnetic space for the interference of satellite-based communication or navigation signals as well as the use of high-power lasers to obstruct optical reconnaissance or optical communication. A further field of research ultimately lies in the area of protection and the countermeasures of future satellite systems against the increasing amount of junk particles (space debris) or against targeted destruction.

Technology demonstrator

Printscreen of the Application SitSat
© VBS/DDPS

Together with an external partner, armasuisse S+T has developed the demonstrator SitSat (situation of the satellite) to appropriately visualise the operational picture in space. This application enables the situation of all known satellites to be displayed and analysed at any reference location worldwide and in any time frame. The satellites can be filtered according to their various applications and further criteria such as operator’s country, purpose, type or orbit. It can also be determined whether and in what time frame the selected reference location is visible for a reconnaissance satellite and whether a connection to a communications satellite is possible. At the same time, the application takes into account both the prevailing weather conditions and the topographical circumstances. This means that it is also observed whether the view is impeded by mountains or cloud cover, for example. On the one hand, the demonstrator exists as a web application, to obtain a comprehensive picture of the situation at operational level and to provide targeted support for operative planning. In addition, SitSat is also available as an app for tablets and smartphones, in order to gain rapid situational awareness at a tactical level and to speed up tactical decisions.

Network

A wide network of partners from the professional world, academia, universities and other research institutes in Switzerland and abroad is actively used and maintained in order to develop expertise. In order to keep track of skills and capabilities, close contact and an exchange of information is maintained with users and the planning, procurement and test centres of the DDPS.

Research Program Manager

Research Program Manager, Dr. Ulrich Langer
Dr. Ulrich Langer

Our «Space» research program manager is delighted at your interest.

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Sciences and Technology Specialist area Research Management
and Operations Research
Feuerwerkerstrasse 39
CH-3602 Thun
Tel.
+41 58 484 64 68

Research Program Manager

Dr. Ulrich Langer
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