Joy Stein, Space Development Agency tracking layer lead, and Chris Badgett, Kratos Federal Space ground strategy director, speaking at the Satellite 2020 conference about cloud computing. Credit: SpaceNews/Debra Werner

WASHINGTON – The Space Development Agency (SDA) is evaluating how cloud computing could bolster its campaign to quickly identify and track missiles.

“We believe in proliferation for sensing and communications,” Joy Stein, SDA tracking layer lead, said at the Satellite 2020 conference here. “That is one of the reasons that I believe we’ll head toward cloud computing capabilities.”

Missile detection and tracking is one of SDA’s primary jobs. The agency is soliciting bids and drafting plans to launch satellites to identify targets, track advanced missiles and share the information gathered.

Missile-tracking sensors “create a lot of data that has to be processed very quickly and disseminated out to the tactical edge,” Stein said. “Bringing all that data back to [the continental United States] creates a bottleneck and unnecessary latencies.”

In general, organizations speed up the flow of data by moving processing closer to the collection site or closer to destination. Increasingly, satellites equipped with space-based sensors perform some data processing onboard.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether processing is done onboard the spacecraft or at the user,” Stein said. “It’s probably a combination of the two.”

One things that makes data processing on the ground attractive is the number of commercial cloud providers and services available, Stein said.

Cloud computing can also offer flexibility.

“There’s a lot of opportunities that we haven’t fully exploited from a space perspective yet,” Stein said. “Cloud computing is one of those architectures that gives you flexibility to continue to make refinements with the data you provide, how that gets processed and where it goes.”

With any computing architecture, cybersecurity is a concern.

“The security challenge is always going to loom and is ever-evolving,” Stein said. “How do we continue to stay ahead of those threats and those challenges?”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...