Above us in space are approximately 1 750 active satellites in orbit around Earth. Some help us communicate, others to navigate and some make sure that banks all around the world can have exactly synchronised watches. But not least the satellites study the Earth, take photographs and make measurements. Some are equipped with synthetic array radar, SAR, which allows the satellites to look through clouds and get more accurate pictures.
- Satellites can read a lot more than what people may realise. Temperatures, winds and gravitational fields, Christer Fuglesang tells.
He is mostly known for his two trips to space and his visit to the international space station ISS, but today works as a professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, as well as an advisor at the defence firm Saab.
- I would really like to see this type of collaboration between academics and industry and I have been involved in similar collaborations even on the aviation side, he tells.
Satellite development is moving from bigger satellites that are in orbit far away from Earth in order to receive the widest coverage possible, to being replaced by clusters of smaller satellites that spin closer to Earth and communicate with each other. The higher number of satellites also make them less sensitive to vandalism, due to the fact that you in that case have to eliminate several satellites within the cluster.
- Some can weigh as little as five kilograms, and even satellites with a radar can weigh as little as 70-90 kilograms, says Christer Fuglesang.
During the autumn, Saab took inventory of what needs there are regarding the satellite area. One of the conclusions that were reached was the need to use the company’s radar competence in order to create opportunities to gain better control of which satellites are in orbit.
- From a military point of view it is of course good to know when the enemy is watching you. If you are planning to move a troops it is important to do so when you are not being watched. And in the civil area there is a need to keep better track of satellites and space debris to avoid collisions, says Christer Fuglesang.
Today only the American defence have a track record as such, but there is a spoken need of a control system acting in the same way as the ones already present for aeroplanes, not least from the USA who wishes to not be solely responsible for warning other nations about collisions. It becomes even more important since the number of satellites are expected to increase to around 10 000.
Colonel Martin Anderberg is working at the Armed Forces commanding staff. He agrees about the importance of keeping better track of which satellites are in orbit around the Earth and which ones are scouting Swedish territory and Swedish task areas.
- It is useful in order to preserve our security activities.
He means that the development of more and smaller satellites is becoming a challenge for different countries’ national defence. As a result of commercial actors selling pictures to countries as well as organisations and individuals it is becoming increasingly difficult to know who finally gets access to the information in the end. At the same time countries’ increasing control over each other is contributing to less strain.
- Reconnaissance satellites are contributing to creating a transparency regarding abilities and evolution of events with other states. That transparency then leads to predictability and trust between states and therefor works as a conflict and war deterrent instrument.
Today around 70 countries have their own military satellites, but in Sweden there isn’t any kind of need for that.
- It doesn’t demand neither our own launch operations nor our own satellites in order to fully utilise the services that the systems in space give. Those are things we can gain through collaborations or purchases of information, says Martin Andersberg.
But it could of course come to change later on. In order to keep up with the development process within the space area and in order to create competence, the Swedish Armed Forces are, since a few years back, financing the development of a military satellite in collaboration with FMV och American AFRL, Air Force Research Laboratory.
Saab also doesn’t have any own ambitions to build satellites in the present date. But there are competence as well as collaboration opportunities in Sweden. With its proximity to the North Pole, Sweden has many satellites passing directly above it, also putting it in a good position when it comes to collecting satellite data. The only competence they are currently lacking, is the ability to launch their own satellites.
Looking even further into the future, Christer Fuglesang believes that operations with manned space flights and a blurring of the lines between flights and space flights will contribute a lot even for the military side of things, not in the least when it comes to aerodynamics. But he also points out that space development can contribute to peace.
- ISS has been nominated to Nobel’s peace prize because it’s a project that have made countries who are often in conflict with each other, to co-operate. Despite tension growing stronger between Russia and the west, the collaboration with the space station has continued without a hitch, he says.
First published in SOFF:s Magazine 2018 (in Swedish).
Text: Per Johansson