Report: Space tracking technology a top priority, but commercial opportunities are limited

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun9,2024

WASHINGTON — A new report by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton identifies space domain awareness (SDA) as one of the top 10 impactful technologies for national security in the coming years. The report also cautions that the Pentagon’s growing focus on SDA may not translate to a boom for commercial startups in the sector.

SDA technologies are used to detect, track and characterize objects orbiting the Earth in order to prevent collisions, identify threats, and determine the ownership and intent of satellites. 

The growing importance of SDA is reflected in the latest budget proposal from the U.S. Space Force, which requested $612 million for fiscal year 2024 — a $120 million increase from two years prior. The funds would go towards ground-based radars, optical telescopes, space-based surveillance systems, commercial data purchases, and data analytics services.

Defense primes dominate sector

Despite this growth, Booz Allen warns of an uncertain outlook for commercial SDA businesses. Regulatory hurdles, dominance by established defense primes — including Northrop Grumman, L3Harris and  Lockheed Martin — and the government’s provision of free public data services all pose challenges. 

Companies in the SDA business develop radars, telescopes, maneuverable inspection satellites, and data analysis software.

The report suggests that startups with a diversified business model or offering unique value propositions are more likely to thrive. The Space Force’s recent commercial space strategy emphasizes leveraging commercial technologies for SDA, but the long-term market is likely to sustain only a handful of successful players.

The report mentions Amazon as a major tech player staking a claim in the SDA sector. The company provides computing infrastructure to startups and has built an open marketplace for space data and analytics offerings.

While Amazon’s moves suggest growing interest in SDA from big tech, Booz Allen notes that major venture funds are not very active investors in this segment currently. “Look for defense primes to continue to win major programs of record,” the report says.

There are several reasons why SDA was selected as a top technology focus, the report explains. Monitoring of satellites and space debris has become crucial as concerns grow about potential collisions disrupting critical national security systems and threats from adversaries interfering with U.S. assets in orbit. The military relies heavily on space-based capabilities for navigation, communications, intelligence gathering, and early warning — making SDA a priority to maintain operational safety and superiority over adversaries. 

Booz Allen says its report aims to highlight key technological areas that the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies should focus their investment and development efforts on in the near future. The findings were based on public reports, insights from technical experts, client feedback, and the firm’s own venture capital deal pipeline.

Top 10 Emerging Technologies for National Security

Semiconductor Chips for AI: Designed to accelerate AI/machine learning computations and reduce energy consumption.

Alternative Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT): This reflects a need for secure and robust alternatives to GPS-based PNT due to vulnerabilities in existing systems.

Autonomous Swarms: Networks of robots with local processing, communication, and sensing capabilities that can react to their environment autonomously and in a synchronized way.

Generative AI Software: AI/machine learning specifically designed to review, edit, and write software, potentially reducing human coding workload and security flaws.

High-Density Energy Storage: New battery chemistries enabling next-generation batteries with significantly higher energy density for greater power output in smaller devices.

Hypersonics: Vehicles capable of exceeding five times the speed of sound, allowing for faster access to space, rapid military response over long distances, and potentially faster commercial air travel.

Multimodal AI: AI systems that can ingest and analyze various data types simultaneously for better contextual understanding and more accurate insights.

Non-Kinetic Counter-UAS: Technologies focused on disabling small and medium-sized drone threats using methods like radio jamming, cyber takeover, or directed energy.

Post-Quantum Cryptography: New mathematical algorithms for public-key encryption that need to be developed and implemented now to resist future attacks from quantum computers.

Space Domain Awareness: The monitoring of active satellites and debris to maintain situational awareness and ensure the safety of the space operating environment. (Source: Booz Allen report)

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Report: Space tracking technology a top priority, but commercial opportunities are limited”
  1. As a technology enthusiast, I believe that the growth in space domain awareness is crucial for national security. However, the challenges faced by commercial startups in this sector are concerning. It’s important for innovative companies to adapt and find unique solutions to succeed in this competitive market.

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