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GA Satellite Bound For Cislunar Space

“Cislunar” is a term that means in the area between the Earth and the moon. It is much farther from terra firma than the area where geosynchronous satellites fly, and it is where General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems is preparing to go.

GA-EMS is on board for Oracle, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s project that will track space debris and spacecraft in cislunar space.

The San Diego company said Jan. 5 that it received a contract with a middleman, Colorado-based Advanced Space LLC. The deal calls on GA to build a satellite, perform payload integration and space vehicle test. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Advanced Space is overseeing the Air Force Research Laboratory program under a $72 million federal contract.

The U.S. government’s interest in space is not purely academic; the U.S. military relies on space-based capabilities. In April, the Defense Intelligence Agency released an unclassified report, “Challenges to Security in Space – 2022,” documenting how China, Russia and other nations might use space for their military ends. The document has 70 pages and 637 footnotes.

A New Perspective

The satellite that GA-EMS will build is in a class called “ESPA Grande.” Such satellites have a payload volume no more than 42 by 46 by 56 inches (though in some cases that last dimension is smaller).

Oracle will demonstrate space situational awareness and Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) techniques using advanced technologies capable of detecting and tracking objects in cislunar space.

The Air Force lab previously called the program CHPS, short for Cislunar Highway Patrol System. The program was renamed Oracle, in a nod to the Apollo program which sent humans to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In ancient Greece, the oracle of Delphi was said to channel knowledge from the god Apollo.

“On-orbit capability to generate greater space situational awareness has wide application as space exploration and efforts to return to the moon continue to accelerate,” said Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS. “We are proud to be part of Advanced Space’s world-class Oracle mission team, which includes Leidos, a leading space sensor technology provider. We are leveraging our standard GA-500 satellite bus, which is being developed for the United States Space Force under the EO/IR Weather System contract, to build an optimized spacecraft integrated with Leidos’ high-performance space optical payload and a customer provided green propulsion system to fulfill Oracle’s two-year mission demonstration lifecycle.”

The AFRL Oracle spacecraft program is intended to demonstrate advanced techniques to detect and track objects in the region near the moon that cannot be viewed optically from the Earth or from satellites in traditional orbits such as geosynchronous earth orbit. The anticipated launch date for the Oracle spacecraft is late 2025.

“Our GA-500 bus is part of an expanding portfolio of configurable, flight-proven ESPA-class satellites offering customers greater versatility to launch missions rapidly and efficiently into space,” said Gregg Burgess, vice president of GA-EMS Space Systems. “We look forward to delivering a tailored, rad-hardened Oracle spacecraft capable of operating in the very challenging cislunar space environment. The cislunar region continues to be a strategic area of focus for us to leverage our expertise in satellite design, manufacturing and payload development and integration to support new missions operating in the space from the Earth to the moon.”

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