Very little is known about the Czech military’s space activities, but from the fragments that seep through here and there, people can get a picture of the ambitions of the Czech military space program and its current state. The future is to be ensured by a constellation of four satellites whose information will be processed by artificial intelligence.
Project SPACE 2030 VZLÚ.
| Video: courtesy of VZLÚ
It is the basis of the Czech military space program Satellite Center of the Czech Republic (SATCEN), which was established on July 1, 2017 as an organization under Military Intelligence. At the same time, SATCEN already works when it provides important information, including visual material, from points of interest, especially to the army.
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How does it obtain this information when the Czech Republic does not yet have its own spy satellite? SATCEN purchases data from open sources. There are a number of companies that operate their own optical or multispectral satellites and their business is the sale of data. Of course, in addition to these commercial sources of information, the Czech Republic also has information from allied governments and their armies, so it also receives data from NATO and allies.
And in what situations does SATCEN most often operate? According to published information, it supports not only the army, but also the integrated rescue system. For example, he provided information from space to the Czech firefighters during the liquidation of the consequences of the bombings in Beirut, analyzed the damage caused tornado in southern Moravia and assisted the integrated rescue system in the liquidation of large fires in Český Raj.
The first “physical” stage of the future Czech military space program is a project called Stratom. It is a high-altitude station, tethered in the stratosphere at an altitude of around 25 kilometers. Its length should be about 32 meters, volume about 2500 cubic meters and payload about 10 kilograms.
Through the eyes of Jiří VojáčekSource: DiaryAt stratospheric altitude, the balloon is held in place by its own propulsion system, which consists of electric motors attached to the propellers and powered by installed batteries and solar panels covering the system. Of course, its lifespan also depends on this, when the system is able to work from six to approximately twenty-four weeks (half a year) for one start. It is then returned to the base station and replaced with a fully charged replacement system.
The main goal of the Stratom system is the acquisition of images and multispectral information about the earth’s surface with an expected resolution of approximately 15 centimeters per pixel and a bandwidth of 1,000 kilometers, while changing the system’s orientation from Ostrava to Pilsen should take less than five seconds. In addition to taking photos and videos (including the possibility of live broadcasting), the system will also be used for communication, navigation and as a relay node to connect with more sophisticated systems that the military will send to space.
Base stations that receive, sort, evaluate and transmit data from satellites often remain in the shadow of satellite technology that is launched into space. The Czech military space program does not lag behind in this regard. In addition to the pseudo-satellite of the Stratom project and space satellites, a special evaluation center will operate on the ground, which will analyze in detail the material provided our satellitesand of course not only visually.
One of the main tasks of the MODES (Modular Expert System) project is to develop software that will be able to analyze a large amount of data from the beginning and optimize the identification of targets or objects of interest. The system will use artificial intelligence algorithms to learn to evaluate and contextualize satellite data with human assistance and later fully autonomously, thereby simplifying the chain of decisions based on it.
Thermal satellite image.Source: with the permission of VZLÚ
The machine learning on which it will be based will be unique in that it will be our own Czech software adapted to local conditions, which will bring not only savings, but also a significant reduction in the security risks necessarily associated with it. The goal is to achieve a state where all data from satellites, altitude stations and other additional sources will initially be evaluated by artificial intelligence and only at the end of the entire process will the most interesting or task-important data be handed over to a person.
A simplified version of the software that recognizes and prioritizes objects of interest will also be present on individual satellites, so it will not be necessary to download excessive amounts of data from them.
Czech satellite constellation
The culmination of the entire program will be a satellite constellation called Golem-X. What exactly it will look like and who will be its main supplier have yet to be decided, but enough information has been leaked about the project in recent years to give us an idea that is likely to be very close to reality.
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It is an important organization in the whole program Aviation Research and Testing Institute (VZLÚ), which in recent years has gradually launched two of its own small satellites VZLUSAT-1 and VZLUSAT-2, developed exclusively in the Czech Republic in cooperation with the private sector and universities. It is on these two nanosatellites, especially the second one, that VZLÚ intends to test demanding on-orbit control, data collection and other elements of the SPACE 2030 project, which will build a constellation of four Hyperion satellites from the larger and heavier THEA platform.
Now that he has Ministry of Defense financing was secured thanks to the adoption of the law on the obligation to spend two percent of GDP on defense, the basic economic obstacle to the implementation of the entire project, which is supposed to fit into the total budget of 4 billion crowns, also fell. According to the Ministry of Defense, the future Czech satellite constellation will not consist of one or two satellites, as originally planned, but of four satellites of different sizes, purposes and weights from 50 to about 300 kilograms, which will orbit at an altitude of about 450 kilometers. Through these spies, the monitoring of the earth’s surface will of course take place not only optically, in the infrared or ultraviolet spectrum, but also by thermal imaging, using radar and later possibly also using lasers using technology lidar (scanning the Earth’s surface with a laser).
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Since the satellites will not be geostationary (they will move above the earth’s surface) and the Czech Republic has a very small area, it will be important for their management that the ground stations are fully functional and always ready to exchange data, since the flight over our territory will mostly be short. This is also why it is an advantage that there will be four satellites, because it is assumed that they will function as a network capable of transmitting data to each other, so that when collecting data it will not always be necessary to wait for the flyby of a specific satellite, but it will be possible to “send” its data via the other three satellites and only collect additional satellites during flyby. The possibility of placing additional base stations in allied countries or in other countries on a purely commercial basis (leasing space for setting up a station) is also being discussed.
A base station for communicating with satellites.Source: with the permission of VZLÚ
In any case, both the tethered altitude stations and the evaluation center are based on algorithms artificial intelligence even the satellite constellation itself is a significant step forward in the future defense of the Czech Republic and proof that even small countries can have real space ambitions.