Three Innovative Projects Funded in Annual ‘Fight Tonight’ Competition

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  • By Lisa Sodders, SSC Public Affairs
A proposal to create a standardized interface between the U.S. and allied partners to share data from the U.S. Space Force’s Unified Data Library was named the winner of Space Systems Command’s (SSC) 2nd annual Fight Tonight innovation competition.

The winning idea, and two other finalists who will all receive funding for their projects, were announced Nov. 17 at the Space Force Ball at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“SSC’s Fight Tonight program was designed to identify innovative thinking from our most valuable and brightest assets – our people,” explained Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein. “The submissions were amazing and the collaboration between our acquisition and operations professionals to vet each idea’s operational feasibility to get after the fight, is why the program is so successful.”

Sage Andorka, deputy branch chief and chief engineer, Cross Mission Data, who represented the winning team at the event said it was exciting when their team was announced as the winner of the 2023 competition.

“The chosen finalists were all great projects, so we certainly felt that we had strong competition,” Andorka said. “This win will ensure delivery of a much needed data-sharing capability for our coalition partners. We can’t win alone.”

SSC’s “Fight Tonight” competition seeks to find solutions aligned to the critical Space Force mission of ensuring a secure space domain for all.

All military and civilian SSC personnel were eligible to participate. Proposals needed to be based on actionable ideas that could be implemented in a one-year timeframe and directly in line with the Field Command’s strategic intent to exploit the resources it has, tap the commercial marketplace to buy what is already available and build when a commercial or allied solution is not a viable option.

A total of 28 projects were submitted in August, and five of those were selected as finalists. Each proposal required the submitter(s) to align with an operations sponsor from Space Operations Command to validate that the proposed idea was operationally relevant. Up to $8 million in funding was available for the winners. Ideas that were not selected were forwarded to SSC’s relevant Program Executive Offices for consideration to implement if funding can be secured from other sources.

On Nov. 6, the five finalist teams presented their ideas to a special panel made up of Guetlein; Maj. Gen. Douglas A. Schiess, Combined Force Space Component commander; and Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Purdy Jr., military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.

“Under great power competition, it really becomes prudent upon us to make sure that we can credibly not only protect, defend and deter aggression, but if called upon, defeat it at a time and location of our choosing,” Guetlein told the finalists. “In order to do that, we can no longer rely on our old processes and ways of doing business, which could take months, if not years, to field a credible capability into operations.”

The Winner: Allied Exchange Environment (AXE)

There is no known capability for near real-time, bi-directional, machine-to-machine data sharing with international allies, said Lt. Col. Dan Kimmich, Materiel Leader, Cross Mission Data
at SSC. What is needed is a common data platform, a “babel fish”, Kimmich said, referring to the fictional instant translation creature in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
AXE will create a standardized interface between the U.S. and any foreign allied partner for highly valuable, two-way operational data distribution. Leveraging the Unified Data Library's (UDL) capabilities and cybersecurity best practices to reduce and/or eliminate current data sharing bottlenecks, AXE would enable near real-time data sharing from the Secret UDL currently unavailable to partners, Kimmich said.

Kimmich’s team plans to proceed with the development, installation, and software sustainment of the systems in support of Japan and Australia in FY24, Kimmich said. The project is currently being tested using data from the Australian Space Surveillance Telescope, and the AXE environment can be seen on the DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) network.

“(The USSF) wants to be ‘Allied by Design,’ and quite simply, the United States doesn’t have all of the space-based or ground-based sensors to watch everything,” Kimmich said. “If we can get to a point where we are able to share space information – current known location, detection of a maneuver, or change in brightness of an object – in both directions to and from our allies, that may give us just enough advance notice so we can take the appropriate action.”

“The systems in place today enable email exchange or chat capabilities, but we don’t have systems to enable machine-to-machine connections to flow data in real time,” Kimmich added.

“If a radar in Japan collects data on a space object, how does it share that with United States? It doesn’t, unless an operator in Japan types a message, and that’s prone to error and not timely.”

Kimmich said the finalists’ presentation was an incredible opportunity to explain their concepts directly to three generals representing the strategic, operational and tactical sectors, instead of going through a more lengthy traditional process. He also praised SSC’s Atlas X team, which worked with all the finalists to help them hone their presentations, calling it a “great experience for me and my team.”

Two additional projects were chosen as runners-up and also given funding: Aalyria Spacetime and DEEP-RF.

Aalyria Spacetime

The youngest finalist, 1st Lt. Rebecca Miller, 24, program manager for the Commercial Space Office at SSC, presented her team’s idea: to use Aalyria Spacetime, a software-defined, dynamic network orchestration and resource allocation capability, to directly enhance warfighter communication.

The software essentially acts as a network “broker” – analyzing all possible networks for data and optimizing them based on weather, user requirements (such as latency or data rate), or malicious interference. Miller said the capability will provide the end user the ability to communicate with the future hybrid space architecture that does not exist today.

Miller and her team proposed funding a testing campaign to prove the technology readiness level of a commercial software-defined networking product to integrate the breadth of the SWAC Force Design Space Data Transport layer to provide integrated communication networks.

Spacetime is a defined land, sea, air, and space network architecture that can support multi-path communications and extensibility for interoperability with commercial satellite networks, laser communications, and future 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) and Link 16, a standardized communications system used by U.S., NATO, and Coalition forces for transmitting and exchanging real time tactical data using links between allied military network participants.

Miller said the software could provide rapid access to sensor platforms and data, unify routing across disparate networks and administrative domains, and could seamlessly scale to provide operators at the SpOC Del 8 a software defined networking broadband communication capability across all orbital regimes and domains.

Miller pushed past any apprehension about delivering a funding request in front of the three generals, and called this an incredible opportunity. Having previously served on a Galaxy Fellowship helped expedite Miller’s career growth and gave her the opportunities that led up to her winning pitch.

“I’m super grateful for the (“Fight Tonight”) platform, and the ability to directly voice an opinion to such influential people,” Miller said.

“I think the amount of responsibility we’re able to inherit (as part of the Space Force) is unique and definitely accelerates your growth as a leader,” Miller said. “Having to make decisions or lead efforts such as this demonstration really forces you to grow. The capability you’re pursuing is much greater than you, so focusing on doing what’s best for the Space Force, what’s best for the military, it’s important to remove your ego.”


DEEP-RF, or Data Exploitation and Enhanced Processing-Radio Frequency, will fill a gap for a persistent, extended monitoring of the RF spectrum by leveraging commercial data from already fielded systems, said Capt. Benny Berezin, Deputy Branch Chief of Persistent Tactical Surveillance.

Barbara Golf’s Pivot SDA team at SSC in collaboration with Joint Commercial Operations (JCO) Global and The Aerospace Corporation will lead the procurement, fielding, and integration of this critical technology. DEEP-RF enables JCO to rapidly expand into Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO) with our commercial, military, and international partners, said Lt. Col, Patrick “Ralph” Lookabaugh, director, JCO EMSO.

The proposal builds upon proven data science methodology and a scalable, extensible data exploitation architecture that was established under a successful project, DEEP-PNT, that currently fuses Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) telemetry data from multiple, proliferated Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations to provide operational global, persistent monitoring of GNSS disruptions.

DEEP-RF will expand the threat monitoring to include a significantly larger portion of the RF spectrum across the air, land, sea, space, and cyber domains, said Dr. Steve Lewis, chief engineer, JCO EMSO.

“Individually, the observations might seem unremarkable, but aggregating them through data science techniques could reveal actionable threat indications and warnings, and detection and localization of jammers and other systems,” Berezin said.

“The speed at which we’ll be able to put DEEP-RF into the hands of warfighters aligns perfectly with the U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) goals for its new Integrated Mission Deltas for Position Navigation & Timing (PNT) and Electromagnetic Warfare (EW),” Lookabaugh added.

“Additionally, relationships with our Combatant Commands, the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), the Space Information Sharing & Analysis Center (Space ISAC), the Space Domain Awareness Tools Applications and Processing (TAP) Lab, SPACE CAMP, and Air Force Research Labs have allowed us to jumpstart this project and accomplish in months what would have taken years previously,” Lookabaugh said.

DEEP-RF exploits existing commercial radiometric telemetry data and enables SSC to rapidly surge the number of contributing sensors without building or launching a single new spacecraft.  This technology rapidly scales, leverages unclassified commercial data, and isn’t limited to space-based sensors - it is being developed in such a way that we can provide actionable and shareable EMSO products that can be fused with other sources for a more complete threat picture. Every single domain and every space orbital regime is contested now, and DEEP-RF will Last year’s “Fight Tonight” winner, Anita McCorvey, director of SSC’s Space Sensing Product Support Delta, presented two ideas as a finalist: Missile Warning Link 16 to AORs, and Multi-INT Data via MILSATCOM.

Missile Warning Link 16 to AORs (Areas of Responsibility)

Tactical Data Links (TDLs) such as Link-16 are the primary means of exchanging tactical information between warfighting units today, McCorvey said.

Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Missile Warning messages could be directly sent from SBIRS (Space Based Infrared System) Delta 4 to the AOR (Area of Responsibility) forces including ground, airborne, and sea-based air defense platforms and selected fighter aircraft in near-real time.

Data encryption and frequency hopping techniques ensure that Link 16 is both jam-resistant and secure. By directly providing OPIR data to the theater platforms, the theater users would have immediate access to missile launches, impact point prediction and launch point detection data, McCorvey said.

Existing Link-16 software used by the Australian Mission Processor (AMP) program today can be leveraged and implemented into the Enhanced SBIRS Operational Agile Response (ESOAR) within the Missile Warning Program of Record (POR) with very little time or cost. McCorvey’s team asked for $2 million for the project.

Multi-INT Data via MILSATCOM

Dim detection challenges using only OPIR data exist today, McCorvey told the judging panel. Using other non-OPIR data sources and sensors can significantly improve track custody resulting in improved missile warning, and missile defense, and situational awareness, during a conflict.

Multi-INT Data via MILSATCOM would improve system resiliency providing non-OPIR data from outside the continental U.S. to the continental U.S. if nominal terrestrial communication paths are unavailable. This allows non-OPIR intelligence (INT) data to be fused with OPIR data, significantly improving dim target track custody.

The concept would use a machine learning component to “stitch together” intelligence from other sources, McCorvey said.

“In a contested environment, in the heat of battle, we need to ensure alternative lines of communication so we have mission and system resiliency,” McCorvey said. “By leveraging existing satellite communications to transmit time-sensitive data, we can improve resiliency of U.S. capabilities, increase collaboration among DoD and intelligence communities, and lean forward on mission enhancements to improve the fight.”