Air Force, Education and Industry Partners Work Together to Gather Space Radiation Data

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Iridium Communications announced on Feb. 6 the completion of its Iridium® NEXT campaign, which upgraded its original satellite constellation. Completion of the new network also signifies the beginning of the final stage in the activation of a critical set of space radiation sensors deployed by the U.S. Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office’s Advanced Systems and Technology Directorate: the Responsive Environmental Assessment Commercially Hosted constellation, known as REACH.

Consisting of 32-hosted sensors on the new Iridium constellation, REACH is a partnership between the Air Force, NRO AS&T, The Aerospace Corporation, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Iridium Communications and Harris Corporation. A similar capability was found on the original Iridium network, prior to its replacement by the new constellation.

The program, managed by Space and Missile Systems Center’s Advanced Systems and Development Directorate, provides an unprecedented capability to monitor Earth’s radiation environment in low Earth orbit. REACH represents an innovative, low-cost and rapid fielding of space radiation sensing technology to provide resilient detection and characterization of space weather hazards.  REACH data will be applied to looking at current and forecasted space weather phenomena, as well as determining the role of charged particles in upper atmosphere chemistry, and the dynamics of the Van Allen radiation belts.  Applications of the data include monitoring the radiation environment for aircraft at high latitudes as well as for crewed missions in Earth orbit.

The Aerospace Corporation designed and developed REACH’s sensors.  The technology was then transitioned to Millennium Engineering & Integration (MEI) and Libration Systems Management for manufacturing.  The sensors are hosted on the AppStar™ hosted payload platform built by Harris Corporation.  The REACH ground processing center at APL produces the data products that provide information about the location and intensity of severe space radiation in near real time. Data from the REACH constellation will be made available to the public starting this year.

“The REACH program incorporates SMC 2.0 values of epic speed, innovation and partnerships, said Col Timothy Sejba, SMC/AD director. “It is a great example of how the U.S. Air Force is teaming up and collaborating with commercial partners to accomplish unprecedented feats in space.”

REACH was developed and fielded in less than three years at a fraction of the cost of a standalone capability to achieve resilient, global space weather coverage.

“This program is an excellent example of how industry and government are partnering to efficiently deploy advanced technologies that improve our overall understanding and awareness of space-based hazards to the Earth, like solar flares,” said Scott Scheimreif, executive vice president of government programs at Iridium.  “Based on our plans for Iridium NEXT, we were able to coordinate with these partners to help deliver the REACH technology’s unique capability, providing access to space weather data and assisting in the ongoing effort to study the effects of radiation in space.  This is a critical service for the entire planet and will ultimately help mitigate space weather-related threats to critical infrastructure like the energy grid and telecommunication networks.”

SMC manages a portfolio that includes the Global Positioning System, satellite communications, meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.

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