Skip to main content

An Antidote To Anti-Satellite Threats: L3Harris’ Advanced Optical Assemblies

When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2007, ushering in a new year, no one anticipated that 10 days later the U.S. would be forced into an anti-satellite arms race with China.

But that’s exactly what happened.

On January 11, 2007, China fired a medium-range ballistic missile from the ground into one of its own weather satellites, which was in orbit more than 500 miles above the Earth.

In an instant, the satellite exploded into hundreds of pieces of debris that scattered across low Earth orbit.

The successful anti-satellite weapons test communicated a very clear and troubling message: China had the capability to destroy critical U.S. space assets.

Space, a once peaceful sanctuary, was becoming a warfighting domain.

A Dangerous Asymmetry: U.S. Space Dependencies and Growing Threats

The American way of life is fueled by space.

Whether we realize it or not, satellites are an integral part of our everyday lives – even though they’re in orbit hundreds or even thousands of miles above us.

U.S. military operations, cellular networks, banks, global stock exchanges, the power grid, agriculture, air traffic control, GPS navigation and telecommunications all require uninterrupted access to U.S. space assets. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Every time you turn on a light switch, check the weather or a map on your phone, swipe your credit card, call a friend or watch your favorite sports game on TV, you’re relying on satellites orbiting in space.

Space is the ultimate high ground.

The Ultimate High Ground

Space is the ultimate high ground. It underpins all instruments of national power and provides the United States with critical economic, scientific, foreign-policy and national-security benefits. That’s why adversaries are constantly seeking ways to undermine our nation’s space capabilities. They’ve seen the advantages space provides to our way of life and war and want to eliminate them.

Space Domain Awareness (SDA): A No. 1 Need

Despite its upmost importance to our lives, we take access to space for granted.

But increasingly, this access is threatened – both deliberately by our adversaries and inadvertently by the increase of debris in orbit.

The ability to detect, track and identify objects in orbit and predict potential threats, a military capability known as “space domain awareness,” is critical to maintaining access in the future.

In fact, space domain awareness is the U.S. Space Command’s (USSPACECOM) top priority in upholding its mission to deter conflict, defeat aggression, deliver space combat power and defend vital U.S. interests.

“Our competitors have counterspace capabilities and operational military doctrines that extend warfighting to space,” testified Gen. James Dickinson, the commander of USSPACECOM, before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2022.

“Consequently, the number one need for the Command is to enhance our understanding of the congested and complex space operational environment,” he said. “This is why my priority request to Congress is to authorize and fund Space Domain Awareness (SDA) programs.”

“SDA encompasses identifying, characterizing and understanding objects to enable real-time assessments of potentially threatening activities in space and developing appropriate options for a response,” Gen. James Dickinson defined.

“Through SDA, USSPACECOM can better protect and defend our vital space assets when there may be only minutes to respond, he told the Committee. “SDA remains my top priority.”

Satellite Grab or Debris Cleanup? The Puzzle of Accurate Intelligence in the Space Domain

For decades, space domain awareness was mainly about tracking orbital debris, updating the military space catalog and making sure objects didn’t collide. But that’s just not good enough for today’s world.

It’s no longer about simply identifying the technical capabilities of a system, but also doing an intelligence assessment of what an adversary might be trying to accomplish.

Earlier this year, for example, a Chinese satellite equipped with robotic arm technology was spotted towing a dead navigation satellite into a graveyard orbit above the geostationary belt.

Was China cleaning up space debris? Or was China trying to send a different, more threatening message?

For decades, space domain awareness was mainly about tracking orbital debris, updating the military space catalog and making sure objects didn’t collide. But that’s just not good enough for today’s world.

Determining Hostile Intent

Sophisticated adversary actions in space, like China grabbing a satellite and throwing it out into the graveyard, are creating new challenges for the U.S. military. This is especially true when it comes to ensuring accurate intelligence about the space domain. Dealing with antisatellite threats requires a deep understanding of the complex space operational environment, including not only what’s occurring and when, but also the intent behind those activities. That’s where L3Harris comes in.

L3Harris: Addressing the Anti-satellite Threat with Advanced Optics Technology

The U.S. military needs to be able to see, sense and understand better and faster than the adversary does. That’s exactly what L3Harris’ advanced optical assemblies and electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) systems enable.

Optical assemblies? EO/IR systems? Here are few quick definitions:

Optical assemblies are mechanical structures made up of components such as lenses, mirrors, prisms and optical filters, which are used to form optical instruments, like microscopes, telescopes and cameras, that harness the power of light to transmit information.

EO/IR systems, on the other hand, are imaging systems which use both visible light sensors and infrared sensors to provide precise situational awareness during the day, at night and in low-light or low-visibility conditions – giving warfighters a 24/7 view of the battlespace.

The military’s eyes and ears in space are a collection of ground-based optical and radar sensors and command and control (C2) systems known as the Space Surveillance Network (SSN).

These sensors and systems are critical to detecting, tracking, identifying and cataloging all manmade objects in Earth orbit to protect and defend against threats in the space domain.

L3Harris is the company the U.S. military relies on to keep SSN optical sensors and systems reliable, available and relevant.

A Record of Optical Excellence: Past, Present and Future

Our high-performance optical components and assemblies have been integral to the world’s most sophisticated ground and space-based telescopes and satellites for more than 50 years.

Take the U.S. Space Force’s network of Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS) telescopes for example, which is a vital part of the SSN.

This optical space surveillance system can track objects as small as a basketball more than 20,000 miles away. As a result, it’s used to search for, detect, track, identify and report on all deep-space objects.

Most importantly, this system provides mission-critical space surveillance information to the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) and the Distributed Space Command and Control – Dahlgren (DSC2-D), whose mission is to ensure the nation’s combined space enterprise meets and outpaces emerging and advancing space threats.

L3Harris was the original equipment manufacturer for the GEODSS optical tube assembly and mount. Now, we’re helping the U.S. Space Force upgrade and expand this critical network of GEODSS telescopes.

Space superiority

Our experience across the range of optical material systems enables us to balance performance with affordability for any given mission. We’ve also leveraged our extensive array of space-domain-awareness system knowledge and expertise to develop a family of cutting-edge gimbaled EO payloads for space-based space domain awareness.

L3Harris is ensuring the nation remains dominant in the space domain through programs that enhance the U.S. military’s ability to track and respond to anti-satellite threats, including:

  • Maintenance of Space Situational Awareness Integrated Capabilities (MOSSAIC)
  • Advanced Tracking & Launch Analysis System (ATLAS)
  • Space Development Agency (SDA) Tracking Layer
  • Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Hypersonic and Ballistic Space Sensor (HBTSS)

But our offerings and expertise don’t end at space domain awareness.

Observe, orient, decide, act

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

“With respect to a potential conflict in space, the strongest tool for deterrence is our competitors’ knowledge that the U.S. possesses both the means and resolve to protect and defend its space systems.” – Gen. James Dickinson

Space Battle Management Command, Control and Communications (BMC3): Protecting and Defending the Space Domain

Having the ability to effectively identify, characterize and understand any object or activity associated with the space domain that might impact the security, economy or environment of our nation is crucial.

But so is having the ability to act on that information.

That’s why our solutions extend beyond providing the U.S. military with a deep understanding of the complex space operational environment.

We also deliver forward-thinking space BMC3 solutions that close the warfighting observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop.

In every major space operations center, L3Harris’ trusted solutions provide rapid access, processing and fusing of relevant space-operations and intelligence data for faster, better-informed courses of action.

Our BMC3 offerings reduce the time between observing a threat, orienting U.S. forces, deciding on a course of action and acting within a mission-relevant time frame.

“As a trusted partner of the U.S. Space Force and other agencies, L3Harris has spent decades developing advanced technologies that help ensure a secure, stable and accessible space environment and protect our modern way of life,” said Kelle Wendling, President, Space Systems, L3Harris.

And L3Harris will continue to provide the U.S. military with scalable combat capabilities to detect, attribute and respond to threats against U.S., allied and partner space systems – so there is never a day without space.

Reason for inquiry *
L3Harris provides advanced space domain awareness (SDA) capabilities that the U.S. military relies on to detect, attribute and respond to threats against U.S., allied and partner space systems – so there is never a day without space.