The possibility of a sneak attack in space has the Pentagon spooked. And one of the things that makes Rummy & Co. the most nervous is that nobody has a clue what's actually up there in orbit. Imagine how vast and opaque the seas must have seen to World War I-era commanders, and you'll get the idea.There are an array of efforts underway to try to fix this. But a just-introduced Air Force program wins the coolest name award. And it could be in the running for a biggest-bang-for-the-buck prize, too, if it ever gets off of the ground."The Self-Aware Satellite" (scroll waaay down) starts with the premise that orbiters already have a lot of sensors on board. But these instruments are oriented inward, to keep tabs on the satellite's health. What's worse, many of the sensors "are fixed and uni-purpose, and they cannot be accessed in a way inconsistent with this originally envisioned purpose," the Air Force notes.The Self-Aware Satellite also known as Satellite-As-A-Sensor, or SAAS looks to break that rigid mold, and let free up the orbiters' instrumentation.
In SAAS, all sensor data is posted to a centralized database, which can be freely accessed in real-time by a satellite's own processor(s). Sensors can furthermore be redirected to other purposes. For example, a timing, telemetry and control (TT&C) radio can be retargeted to behave as a radio-frequency (RF) threat-warning sensor when not otherwise engaged. Correlations between sensors can be analyzed by the platform on orbit. When combined with an autonomous ability to exploit the information for short-loop responsive actions, a "self-aware" satellite is created.But pulling off this trick means doing a big time reworking of satellites' closed and centralized software. And it means reprogramming sensors, so they can spot both internal trouble as well as threats from without.