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Emulation ensures reliability for space domain awareness

  • Published
  • By Patty Welsh
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A Digital Directorate team located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, is working to ensure the Air Force’s space catalog system stays up-to-date.

The Space Defense Operations Center system has decades-old hardware, much reaching its end-of-life, and as space gets more contested and congested, program personnel, along with the prime contractor, wanted to ensure reliability.

“When detecting items in space, every second counts,” said Col. Joshua Williams, Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems senior materiel leader. “As we can’t take the system down, the team came up with the idea to do an emulation, or re-hosting, tech refresh process.”

The SPADOC Emulation Analysis and Risk Reduction, or SPEARR, process went from an idea to operational acceptance on March 3; the total effort taking only 2 ½ years from start to finish. It re-hosts legacy system software on modern-day hardware. By using modern processors and Linux operating systems, the team was not only able to emulate current processes, but actually enhance the system’s performance.

“While we are seeing other benefits such as a smaller footprint, easier sustainment and cost savings, the most important is that we are able to provide our operators the confidence they need in the system,” said Robert Taylor, Legacy Space Branch chief.

He added that anecdotal evidence also shows personnel complete tasks within significantly reduced timelines. By modernizing the system, the Air Force will be able to expand the space catalog hosted on SPADOC and also improve the system’s cybersecurity.

SPEARR takes 10 racks of equipment and reduces the space needed to 20 to 24 inches in one rack, which also reduces power consumption. In addition, it can operate on most commercial-off-the-shelf servers.

“Now that the new system has been operationally accepted, the legacy system will remain in a warm backup mode,” said Taylor. “The SPEARR system is performing so well, we anticipate decommissioning the legacy system in three to six months.”

Because of the project’s importance, the team worked to accelerate the process as much as they could. They started with a risk reduction testbed system and then moved to a quick risk reduction phase, with re-hosting in less than a year.

“We have the right people with the right experience, along with the leadership to support us, which enabled us to have this success at this speed,” said Taylor.

In the future, because of the modern hardware, the system has the potential to serve as a rapid Agile development environment, which would allow the program office to awaken dormant functions in the current SPADOC system and better posture the system for the demands of today’s Space Force.

“We are providing operators a stable system with modern processing speeds that they can rely on,” said Williams.