WASHINGTON — True Anomaly, a space industry startup based in Denver, was awarded a $17.4 million contract by the U.S. Space Force to provide software tools to better understand the behavior of objects in space and identify potential threats, the company announced Sept. 21.

The contract is a four-year Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 3 award to deliver a prototype suite of software products that True Anomaly developed for space domain awareness, or SDA, a term the Space Force uses to describe the ability to track objects, analyze their characteristics, and discriminate benign from aggressive activities in orbit.

Tom Nichols, True Anomaly’s chief product officer and a former U.S. Air Force satellite operator, said the company will deliver an “SDA kit” — an integrated suite of applications for detection, tracking, identification, characterization. threat warning and assessment. The company builds these apps on an operating system it also developed called Mosaic. 

These applications collectively provide a “regular understanding of the pattern of life or the behavior of objects in space, so that when you see something out of norm, you get an alert and an indication that something’s different about a spacecraft compared to what it had been doing for the last several years,” Nichols told SpaceNews.

The system uses machine learning to help build that pattern of life based on the history of space objects, and trends over time.

True Anomaly’s software kit is aimed at military and intelligence agencies that monitor outer space and want to improve their space domain awareness, but it could be used by commercial operators as well, Nichols said.

Using unclassified space data

Nichols said the company originally submitted an SBIR Phase 2 “open topic” proposal for the SDA kit and was selected in March for a “direct to Phase 2” contract expected to last 21 months. After the company delivered an early prototype in June, the Space Systems Command decided to transition the project to a Phase 3 contract.  

The space domain awareness software was developed using unclassified data from the U.S. military space sensor network. Under the SBIR Phase 3 project, the company will bring in other unclassified commercial data sources, as well as military classified data, said Nichols.

The goal is to eventually add data collected by True Anomaly’s two Jackal spacecraft, projected to launch to low Earth orbit in early 2024. 

The satellites, equipped with three cameras, are designed to perform rendezvous and proximity operations, as well as in-orbit inspection services.

Rendering of True Anomaly’s Jackal orbital vehicle. Credit: True Anomaly

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...