A new device that simulates high-radiation events will be used to test the durability of the military’s most advanced satellites against extreme space weather at the Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee beginning this summer. Developed by Welkin Sciences in Colorado Springs, Colo. and the Arnold Engineering Development Complex’s Test Technology Branch, the Military Satellite communications Atmospheric Scintillation Simulator (MASS) will ensure military space satellites and systems can withstand both natural and man-made electromagnetic disturbances.
While scientists have long been aware of the electromagnetic effects of naturally-occurring space weather—solar flares—on electronic systems, concern over the potential of a future man-made attack has grown in recent years because of the military’s increasing dependence on sophisticated space capabilities. Military officials have long feared that an enemy may explode nuclear weapons in space or in the upper atmosphere, in an attempt to disable the U.S. military’s space capabilities. Such a blast would emit an electromagnetic pulse capable of disrupting radio frequency communication signals between the military satellites and ground equipment—a phenomenon known as scintillation.
Traditional scintillation tests have focused on the satellite modem’s ability to withstand an attack or electromagnetic event, but did not evaluate the satellite itself, or the uplink and downlink, Taylor Swanson, an aerospace engineer at Arnold Air Force Base, told Space News. The MASS simulator is one of the first simulators designed to test terminals, not just the modems. It is capable of mimicking a range of scenarios—including multiple simultaneous events, natural radiation or a nuclear detonation in the ionosphere—and accommodating several satellites, ground systems or terminals with its modular design.
The MASS simulator’s scintillation test capabilities are also reportedly extremely realistic.
“It’s the most you can do beside set off a nuclear bomb in the ionosphere,” Bill Sward, engineering manager at Welkin Sciences, told Space News.
He added that while the market for the product remains small, Welkin Sciences has already received an inquiry for a quote from a Department of Defense prime contractor interested in purchasing a simulator for testing.