New UK military ‘cell’ to partner with US SPACECOM on space domain awareness

By Theresa Hitchens,
Published by Breaking Defense, 26 June 2023

The UK Joint Task Force-Space Defense Commercial Operations Cell (JCO) in effect will extend the time the SPACECOM can keep tabs on satellites, especially those owned by adversaries, and dangerous space debris. 

WASHINGTON — The UK military has stood up its own version of Space Command’s commercial operations cell that will monitor the heavens as part of a US-led network, UK Space Command announced today.

“This capability marks a step change in our joint space operations capacity and further solidifies the UK/US, and wider coalition, bonds in the space domain,” said Air Vice Marshall Paul Godfrey, head of UK Space Command, said in a press release.

The new UK Joint Task Force Space-Defense Commercial Operations Cell, JCO for short, is designed as an arm of the US JCO based in Schriever SFB, Colo., which coordinates with private satellite operators and companies offering space tracking services for the Joint Task Force-Space Defense (JTF-SD). The JTF-SD is SPACECOM’s functional component command responsible for space domain awareness. The American JCO was established in 2020, is designed to provide unclassified indications of orbital activity derived from public research, commercial sensors and analytical tools.

The UK JCO will be fully integrated with US space domain operations to help SPACECOM implement what it calls its “follow the sun model” — the ability to keep eyes on the heavens 24/7. Currently, the US sensor network is limited to spot-checks of space objects, and crews that work during normal daylight hours at Schriever. SPACECOM’s goal is to be able to persistently track space objects 24 hours day during the five-day workweek by 2024, the release noted.

Starting today, the JCO-UK will take point in coordinating with European companies in what US JCO calls its “Meridian cell” during “eight-hour operations shifts starting at local European time zones, allowing each cell to operate during normal business hours,” the release explained. Thus, the UK JCO in effect will extend the time the SPACECOM can keep tabs on satellites, especially those owned by adversaries, and dangerous space debris.

“The stand-up of JCO-UK marks a step forward in building out our follow-the-sun model for 24/7 operations,” said Brig. Gen. Bythewood, JTF-SD commander, in the press release. “Each Ally and partner brings people, resources, or capability that makes the JCO stronger, leveraging ever-increasing commercial capabilities to ensure norms of behavior in space.”

Specifically, the UK JCO’s “focus will be to produce timely, high-quality Notices to Space Operators (NOTSO) during our operating hours,” Fleet Lt. Nick Hallchurch, JCO-UK team lead, said in the release. NOTSOs are warnings of potential problems or threats on orbit.

SPACECOM is providing operational support to the JCO-UK, the release noted, including access to US commercial data and Air Force Research Laboratories Defense Readiness Agile Gaming Online Network (DRAGON) Army Operations, a “sandbox” environment for building, testing and training with software for fusing commercial space monitoring data with that gleaned from military sensors and ensuring safe sharing with operational communications networks.

UK Space Command has been on a path for about a year toward tightening space domain awareness ties with the US on keeping eyes on the heavens. For example, in 2022, the command led the first Sprint Advanced Concept Training (SACT) experiment outside of US borders, bringing together commercial space domain awareness providers in the Meridian cell to test their wares and analytical capabilities.

Further, development of new space domain awareness capabilities are a key part of the UK’s 2022 Defence Space Strategy, with the government pledging to spend more than £85M ($106 million) over the next 10 years.  The UK Ministry of Defence in April issued a request for information from industry as a first step in building new telescope in Cyprus to augment the Royal Air Force’s Fylingdales’ radar in North Yorkshire originally designed for missile warning.

See: Original Article