AEDC's Taylor Swanson supports SBIR project on space asset threat containment technologies

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- With countries like Iran and North Korea striving to add nuclear weapons to their arsenals, the risk they pose to U.S. military satellites is a growing concern.

The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) at Peterson AFB, Colo., and AEDC are focusing on a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project that aims to develop a scintillation test capability to ensure military satellites can function regardless of natural or manmade signal disruptions.

Scintillation is a fluctuation in radio wave propagation that can result from atmospheric effects due to natural causes or a nuclear detonation.

High altitude nuclear detonations could pose a threat to satellite performance by creating mission-critical electrical malfunctions within the satellite's circuitry or by destabilizing the medium through which certain satellites send and receive radio wave signals.

"The objective is to develop a flat fading simulator for hardware-in-the-loop testing of nuclear scintillation effects on military satellite communication (MILSATCOM) systems," said Bill Sward, the SBIR project manager for Welkin Sciences, the company developing the simulator. "What we are working on is called the MILSATCOM Atmospheric Scintillation Simulator or MASS.

AEDC's mission is to test and evaluate space systems under realistic conditions and the MASS enables simulation of actual wartime space environments by providing the ability to emulate ionospheric radio frequency scintillation in ground test facilities.

Sward added, "The MASS emulates disturbed transionospheric radio frequency propagation channels using the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) channel models, reasonable worst-case scenarios, and specific event scenarios defined by the MASS operator."

Certain MILSATCOM systems are hardened against the degrading effects of radio frequency scintillation and the MASS provides the only practical method of testing these MILSATCOM systems designed for anti-scintillation capability.

"We understand the scintillation phenomena, but we haven't had the ability to test it." Swanson said. "Current tests have only been on the modem, not on the terminal or the satellite.

"MASS takes that to the next step. We test terminals connected to satellites and not just modems. We do fully understand the phenomena; we have statistical distributions that describe what happens over time. We are focused on this as a test asset [for AEDC]."

Swanson added, "All previous scintillations tests have been only conducted on the modem in the terminal, not the entire terminal, let alone the satellites. With MASS we have a test asset that can test a terminal connected to a satellite."

Sward emphasized the significance of the working relationship between AEDC and Welkin Sciences, Inc., which is located in Colorado.

"This SBIR project directly benefits the Air Force by providing unique special test equipment (STE) that verifies the A/S (anti-scintillation) capability of sophisticated, multi-billion dollar MILSATCOM systems. The SBIR program provides the Air Force affordable development of STE in a timely manner while supporting America's small business community. Welkin Sciences has a proven track record of transitioning SBIR research and development advances into equipment used in fielded military systems."

The MASS performs a critical role in verifying that the nation's MILSATCOM systems operate properly, ensuring unfettered communications under wartime conditions.