AFRL’s Oracle family of systems developing SSA

Over the last several years, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) unveiled two programs, Defense Deep Space Sentinel, or D2S2, and Oracle, to develop cislunar space situational awareness, or SSA, capabilities. Both programs are now under a single umbrella known as the Oracle family of systems, with D2S2 renamed Oracle Mobility, or Oracle-M, and the original Oracle gaining the designation “Prime,” or Oracle-P.

This technology provides the foundations for safe operations in cislunar space in support of responsible and sustainable lunar exploration. Military, civilian and contractor scientists and engineers will analyze the data over the next several years, enabling the transition of technology, knowledge and vision of future space capabilities for the United States Space Force.

“AFRL is proud to lead the development of SSA capabilities in cislunar space,” said Dr. Andrew Williams, AFRL’s deputy technology executive officer for space. “We’ll learn many important lessons from Oracle-M that feed into Oracle-P and inform senior leaders regarding future operational systems.”

Oracle-M is a near-term, low-cost deep space mobility pathfinder on track to be delivered in mid-2024 and is manifested for launch. As AFRL’s first foray into cislunar space, its primary mission objective is to demonstrate cislunar operations and explore the value of high mobility. It will also develop techniques to achieve situational awareness of the fast-evolving cislunar environment by tracking known cislunar objects.

Oracle-P is a purpose-built cislunar SSA experiment and will demonstrate the ability to search for unknown or lost objects and maintain custody of known objects in cislunar space. This vehicle has wide- and narrow-field-of-view sensors with cutting-edge, on-board processing to reduce the total data downlink volume. Oracle-P is working toward a 2026 delivery and is seeking launch opportunities in 2027. In addition to its cislunar SSA mission, Oracle-P initially planned to demonstrate AFRL’s green propellant ASCENT in a refuellable propulsion module. However, AFRL wanted to accelerate the development of the propulsion module and chose to decouple it from Oracle-P to pursue nearer-term flight opportunities.

“AFRL is committed to demonstrating the modular ASCENT propulsion unit as soon as possible,” said Dr. Lawrence Robertson, senior scientist and lead space experimentalist for AFRL. “Since the module will be ready well before Oracle Prime is in orbit, we are working with Space Test Program to find an earlier opportunity.”

As part of its iterative approach to cislunar SSA, AFRL expects to use similar ground systems, satellite operations personnel and data analysis for both Oracle systems. Data from both experiments will be available via the Unified Data Library for researchers to continue developing cislunar SSA data processing techniques.

“In addition to developing the technologies for the spaceflight experiment, AFRL has a research group dedicated to exploring novel methods for robust cislunar object detection, tracking and orbit determination to enhance cislunar SSA capabilities,” said Oracle-P Principal Investigator Dr. James Frith. “The Oracle experiments will provide a wealth of real-world data for our research efforts and for other researchers in the community.”

Source: AFRL

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