Bring Your Shades: Cutting-Edge Nanosatellites, Virtual Reality Technologies Take Center Stage at West 2016

Secretary of Defense the honorable Ashton Carter visits the facility at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, left, discusses the uses of nanosatellites with SSC Pacific researcher Austin Mroczek during the secretary’s February visit to SSC Pacific. (Photo by Alan Antczak)

By Patric Petrie

Just how bright is the future, you ask?

“Bright!” say the engineers and researchers from the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), and they’re ready to demonstrate the future uses of mixed reality, nanosatellites, and atmospheric propagation at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) International/U.S. Naval Institute West 2016 conference being held at the San Diego Convention Center, Feb. 17-19.

SSC Pacific, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary of delivering capabilities and solutions for the warfighter and the U.S. Navy, hosted a visit last week from Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who viewed the same technologies prior to releasing his fiscal year 2017 defense budget which calls for an increase in funding for research and development, including cyber and space.

One example of what’s on display is the Center’s interactive Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality (BEMR) Lab, where mixed reality will enable the Sailor to learn faster, visualize the battlespace, and make decisions in ground-breaking new ways.

Members of the BEMR team recently traveled to USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) to showcase mixed reality capabilities for the ship’s crew, including Commanding Officer Capt. John Meier.

Meier is now a fan of the capability.

“This project was borne out of a proactive and collaborative effort to marry innovations in technology with the newest and most technologically advanced warship. Working together with SSC Pacific (and others), we have put together a demonstration that is located on board, linked to the existing shipboard systems, and we are collecting data from Sailors to recommend aspects of the technology that can improve the quality and efficiency of shipboard maintenance,” Meier said.

The technology behind the BEMR Lab replicates scenarios and places so Sailors can gain a real-world understanding of how to repair equipment or familiarize themselves with a new ship. A concept called the virtual bridge allows commanders to experience a new ship and the layout of the bridge prior to their actual arrival on board. The BEMR Lab uses low-cost, high-tech commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment, and offers an alternative to more cost-intensive training using actual equipment, plus the technology could be transitioned directly to the ship in the future.

Here’s what Heidi Buck, head of the BEMR Lab, sees as the project’s significant contribution.


Nanosatellites can provide unique access to areas that undersea or airborne platforms cannot. This assures an improved warfighter capability. Adversaries can hide from a handful of satellites, but dozens of satellites are nearly impossible to avoid. (Photo by Alan Antczak)

“What we’re looking at in the BEMR Lab is how this technology can be used to support training, operations and maintenance,” Buck explains. “What we’re really trying to determine is how this technology can be used to reduce manpower, reduce training, and improve mission-effectiveness.  This low-cost COTS technology is a game-changer for these thrust areas.”

Another center stage attraction is the Center’s low-cost nanosatellite space technology.

Nanosatellites are an emerging technology that are less than a foot long and weigh less than 25 pounds. A common form factor is the CubeSat, which was developed as low-cost technology to teach university students how to develop space systems.

Nanosatellites are launched into orbit when a larger satellite mission has spare room, similar to riding on a space-available airline flight. Once the primary space mission separates from the launch vehicle, the nanosatellites are deployed from a spring-loaded canister.

PEO Space Systems, with support from SSC Pacific, is developing a CubeSat called the Integrated Communications Extension Capability, or ICE-Cap.

Launched in 2015, the system is designed to communicate through the Mobile User Objective System to send data directly to users on secure networks. ICE-Cap will relay communications from a user near the North Pole to another user halfway around the world.

Nanosatellites can’t replace every large satellite, but they are quickly becoming more capable. Future nanosatellites will provide capabilities in communications, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, environmental monitoring, and other missions. Nanosatellites can provide unique access to areas that undersea or airborne platforms cannot. This ensures an improved warfighting capability. Adversaries can hide from a handful of satellites, but dozens of satellites are nearly impossible to avoid.

The U.S. Navy is also actively testing a high-energy laser system for ship defense in the Persian Gulf.

The prototype Navy laser weapons system (LaWS) is installed on the USS Ponce (LPD-15), and it has sufficient power to shoot down a drone or sink a small fastboat. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Solid State Laser—Technical Maturation (SSL-TM) program is developing more capable defensive weapons systems to extend and expand these capabilities.

SSC Pacific’s atmospheric optics group models optical atmospheric propagation to strengthening naval power at and from the sea and will be hosting an exhibition and demonstration in the Navy Information Warfare Pavilion.

Steve Hammel, SSC Pacific’s Atmospheric Propagation branch, explains how his team ties it all together.

“We are part of the SSL-TM team to ensure that laser system performance can be accurately modeled,” Hammel said. “Our mission is to predict how well an optical system is going to work before we use it, especially in scenarios that involve possible life-or-death kinds of decision-making. We strive to be able, at any point in time, to tell the ship’s captain how well his system is going to work for any kind of mission that he may have in mind.”

So, bring your shades when visiting WEST 2016, because the future (of Naval technology) is so bright, you’re going to need them!

SSC Pacific is a recognized leader in the cyber domain and for autonomous unmanned systems, and provides the U.S. Navy and military with essential capabilities in command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR). It provides the full spectrum of C4ISR capabilities from basic research and prototype development, to extensive test and evaluation services, through systems engineering and integration, to installation and life-cycle support of fielded systems.

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