COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — U.S. Air Force Space Command plans to use previously untapped data sources to improve its understanding of satellite activity in Earth orbit. The effort, known as Talon Red Cloud, could help offload some of the monitoring requirements for existing sensors in the Space Surveillance Network, according to command officials.


The idea is to use reliable data from other government agencies and trusted commercial companies about the location and movement of their satellites. By relying on data from trusted sources about spacecraft not likely to be of military concern, Air Force Space Command would then be able to focus its limited sensor suites on watching other objects, according to Col. Robert Wright, director of Air Force Space Command’s Space Innovation and Development Center.


The Talon Red Cloud program is a joint effort involving the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office, Air Force Space Command, and the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, Wright said.


The Air Force is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its space situational awareness (SSA) capability by developing new systems such as the Space Based Space Surveillance System and the Space Fence, a ground-based radar replacement effort. The service also is looking for ways to improve its SSA capability without major new spending, something military officials consider to be a critical first step in protecting U.S. satellites.


Talon Red Cloud is an indication that Air Force Space Command recognizes its budget limitations and is willing to take advantage of existing assets to improve its ability to monitor what happens in orbit, Wright said.


A set of briefing charts on Talon Red Cloud dated November 2007 note that information from other government and commercial satellites already is available. Wright said Air Force Space Command officials have had a series of meetings with chief executive officers and chief technology officers from the commercial sector where they discussed working together on Talon Red Cloud.


Recent meetings have included senior military officials such as Mike Wynne, secretary of the Air Force and executive agent for space programs; Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command; Lt. Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command Space; and John Grimes, the Pentagon’s chief information officer and assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration, he said.


Maj. Michelle Holland, chief of the command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance division at the Space Innovation and Development Center, said some of the new data could begin flowing to the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., from “different government assets” by the end of this summer.


Legal issues remain regarding what the government can accept from commercial companies without paying, Holland said. The military will independently evaluate satellite position data from each potential source to determine whether it meets DoD’s accuracy requirements, Holland said. Once the data starts coming in, it will be up to officials in the Joint Space Operations Center to decide exactly how to use it, she said.


Talon Red Cloud focuses on relying on data from satellite operators regarding their own fleets.


The Air Force is separately exploring the possibility of mounting sensors on commercial satellites to gather information on other objects in orbit.