National security comes above all. It is necessary to protect the warfighter and allied communities, and at the time when operations in the realm of national security have transcended beyond the boundaries of the Earth, and we are observing and getting observed from anywhere, anytime, we cannot do without paying great amount of attention to concepts like space situational awareness and cybersecurity. Expert solutions are needed in these domains, and this is where specialists like Polaris Alpha are making a worthwhile contribution.
Through an interview with Marcus Featherston, Executive Vice President Mission Solutions, Polaris Alpha, we have discovered how they are innovating and exploring the ‘art of the possible’, working diligently towards providing the best in engineering and tools designed to protect the warfighter and allied communities.
Space situational awareness has become the latest buzzword. What is your take on it?
We work in space situational awareness (SSA), which is based on knowledge of our near-space environment. Focusing on SSA, we develop a variety of solutions for different customers like what their orbits look like, how do we de-conflict those orbits, make sure that they don’t have any future collisions, and also help operators visualize what they have and if they want to make changes what would the results be. So, if they want to move a particular satellite out of its orbit, it is necessary to know as to how much fuel that satellite has and what will be the impact on visibility.
All this is not possible without having access to a huge repository of data. We develop a lot of technologies and algorithms and work closely with our government customers on military installations where they have access to real data. So their operators use our software. They don’t outsource operation to us; we give them the technology that lets them do these operations.
The issue of cybersecurity has become significant in recent times, where cyber attacks have become an everyday affair with government sites, how do you help your clients keep their data secure?
It is a matter of just coming in and scanning. We have really advanced tools to look at their configuration of networks, their hardware, routers, find if they are out of date, are there newer versions so that they apply the right firmware. All this helps in giving a cutting-edge cyber security to our customers. We also help them to get a really good picture of their installations.
How do your solutions enable security agencies in their operations?
We work closely with various companies, for offensive and defensive cyber work. All that work is highly classified, so it’s hard to talk about what we do. However, what we can say is that it is a very high-level and advanced work, not mundane run of the mill cyber defense work.
Some of our customers are Airforce base command, Schreiver Air Force Base. We also do a lot of work with Space and Missile Command out of LA, and also Air Force Research labs at Kirtland Air Force Base.
Recently there was an incident on the leaking of military location details. In this age of sensors connecting Internet of Things, how can we avoid such incidents?
The only way to solve the issue is by spreading awareness. So if somebody is buying a smartwatch to monitor their fitness, being aware of what data it might be sending is a must. People should be conscious that they might be accidentally broadcasting classified locations. It’s hard for the military to stop that completely because they didn’t develop it or control it. It’s a difficult problem.
‘Multi-domain command and control’ has become integral to modern-day warfare. Please elaborate.
Being part of modern warfare, ‘multi-domain command and control’ is not just dropping a bomb on a target, but there are a lot of ways to achieve what we need. If you want your adversaries’ facility to be disabled, you could bomb it, you could also execute a cyber attack to disable power, so they have to shut it down. You could also use some kind of space effect to disrupt their communication so that they can’t operate. Our multi-domain C2 approach gives a commander multiple options and different ways to execute an operation.
Polaris also delves in commercial applications in space. Please elaborate.
The company has done a lot of work in the domain of commercial applications in space. A very good example of this is command and control technologies. We have non-US customers who use command and control technology. From cyber defense aspect, we make sure our projects are secure but we also outsource that and provide the service to other companies whether they are working with the department of defense or just doing commercial work.
What are the latest innovations from Polaris?
We are building a lot of large-scale systems for space domain operations — how we monitor objects in space, how we make our customers aware what is in space, how we move towards more active potential conflicts in space, how we help defend our assets. The company also does a lot of multi-domain command and control work that is real today based on real technologies, not R&D or looking towards future concepts.
Are you using future technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning in developing your products?
Data involved in domains like multi-command and control require is staggering. It is impossible for a human operator to really understand and aggregate all that in real time, so we are building artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, which help sift that data down and give the operator what they really need and care about so that they have more realistic chance of making the right decision.
Polaris Alpha is committed to developing unique solutions that can enable the governments worldwide to overcome the toughest challenges associated with national security. Its spirit to make a difference gets highlighted all the more as we read this part of its mission statement:
“The promise to ensure liberty and freedom for everyone is what gets us out of bed in the morning and why we do what we do.”