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Air Force Research Laboratory breaks ground for new facility focused on space

A rendering of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Skywave Technology Laboratory that will be constructed on Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

WHPACIFIC

By THOMAS GNAU | Dayton Daily News, Ohio | Published: March 22, 2021

DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has broken ground on a new lab to help it monitor the environment of near-earth space — and how that environment affects military technology.

The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate broke ground on the facility, called the "Skywave Technology Laboratory," last week.

The 3,500 square foot, $3.5 million lab is being built in a remote area on Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, a release from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base-headquartered AFRL said.

"The Skywave Lab will provide the work space our team needs for space environment research, which involves developing and testing new instrumentation, preparing for field experiments around the globe, as well as collecting and processing data to support ionospheric and radio frequency research," Todd Parris, who leads the Geospace Environment Impacts and Applications Branch, said in the release.

The lab should be ready for occupancy early next year.

Many of the systems the researchers use to monitor the space environment require relatively large antennas or require spatially distributed arrays of sensors, AFRL said. The new lab, found on 72 acres, will provide the space and what AFRL called "a state-of-the-art facility" for the team to perform tests locally before they send the sensor systems to the field.

"Today is a great day for research in Skywave propagation," Parris said. "This exceptional site allows us to develop and test space environment sensing technologies for U.S. military applications. It leverages local observations and commercial, academic, and government partner facilities and systems across the United States to collect information about the dynamics of near-earth space."

AFRL's field deployment team develops, prototypes, tests, and deploys radio and optical diagnostics of the near-earth space environment, Parris said.

Their research involves technologies for monitoring and predicting the space environment, and the resulting effects on air and space systems.

AFRL leaders are continually emphasizing that their mission is one lab supporting two services: the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force.

"Understanding the space environment is super important to our Air and Space Forces, said Col. Eric Felt, the director of the Space Vehicles Directorate. "The space environment affects many military systems and services, everything from the actual spacecraft operating in the environment to any radio frequency service that has to operate in or through space. This lab will give us the knowledge we need to take our research to the next level."

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