LONDON — A year after being acquired by RTX, the company formerly known as Raytheon Technologies, U.K.-based Northern Space and Security, or NORSS, is preparing to deploy its ground-based space observation system in the mountains of California.
The Low Earth Orbit Optical Camera Installation, dubbed LOCI, can observe objects residing about 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface, including space debris, government satellites and commercial spacecraft. The company then provides the data to government and commercial customers.
For more than two years, NORSS has been developing the system from its Northumberland facility in England using internal research and development funding. The company has been providing LOCI data to the U.K. Ministry of Defence as it builds out and validates the system, helping the agency visualize in-orbit assets.
The installation in the Sierra Mountains in California will expand the capability, according to Sean Goldborough, who leads the NORSS business unit for RTX’s British arm Raytheon UK. He told C4ISRNET during an interview last week at the biennial DSEI defense and security trade in London that the new LOCI site should be fully installed by the end of October and providing operational data by November.
“Having multiple systems in new locations like California, the geographical distribution means we can capture more of everything,” Goldsborough said. “It’s kind exciting for us to see what the next stage of the system will be.”
The LOCI system that NORSS has been operating in the U.K. has been able to meet the Defence Ministry’s needs for space domain awareness. Deploying a second site on the West Coast of the U.S. has two key advantages Goldsborough said.
First, California has more clear night skies than the U.K., which will allow the system to capture clearer imagery. The other benefit is that it creates the beginnings of a LOCI sensor network, which Goldsborough said is ideal for capturing a more accurate picture of what’s happening in space.
“One sensor, for low Earth orbit especially, isn’t going to cut it for the kinds of customers who have large requirements,” he said. “It’s good for what we do now. . . . But there’s definitely potential customers out there where having an extended network really benefits us.”
The company hopes that installing LOCI in the U.S. will attract more government and commercial customers in the region and demonstrate the benefits of establishing more sites around the world, Goldsborough said.
While the NORSS unit’s model in the near term is to own the imaging system and sell the data it produces, Goldsborough said it could shift to developing customer-unique systems in the future. There also may be opportunities to broaden the scope of its work to include space-based sensors or to incorporate its camera technology into RTX space products.
“We’ve advanced LOCI . . . dramatically since we joined [RTX] in ways that we would never have been able to do,” he said. “Being able to do that opens up all kinds of opportunities.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.