2014 – More Evidence the Times They are A-Changing in Space

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s time to look back on the year in space. Rarely if ever has the competition in space been so intense, the budgetary challenges as significant and the opportunities offered through innovation so promising.

2014 was a year in which the conversation accelerated on how to fashion a new relationship between the government and the commercial satellite industry. This conversation is driving a slow but steady understanding and culture change with regard to what the commercial satellite operators can do for the DoD in the future.

The increased acceptance of the hosted payload approach is a good example of this change, as evidenced by the award of the HoPS IDIQ contract. One of the biggest challenges with any new approach is getting the process established, and we are grateful for the leadership out of the SMC that made this possible. Now government and industry can focus on how to utilize the contract, which promises to deliver greater flexibility through disaggregation of the  country’s space architecture.

Hosted payloads are also an attractive option outside of HoPS, with international opportunities such as our UHF hosted payload on the Intelsat 22 for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Some of these future missions could be weather or SSA related, as many Pacific nations have expressed interest in specific mission sensors.

On the procurement front, the commercial space industry continues to productively engage with government on the issue of investment. Without some kind of change that allows for multiyear leasing, it’s increasingly untenable for industry to make the necessary investments in protection features and mission specific capacity. The government can make such a commitment to a proven partner – it’s been done in the areas of fiber and remote sensing.

Changes to Chapter 137, Title 10, United States Code, Section 2306C, would allow the authority for multi-year procurement of COMSATCOM services.  And, most importantly, this change would provide much-needed cost savings for the U.S. Government in this era of sequestration and budget cuts.

A big reason I’m encouraged by this evolving relationship is the amazing increase in capability right around the corner through  next-generational high-throughput Intelsat EpicNG satellites. Once we have collaboratively addressed the procurement hurdle, EpicNG satellites will deliver huge performance and flexibility enhancements over what is available today. Inherent to the EpicNG design are new anti-jam capabilities never before seen on commercial satellites and these capabilities will continually be improved with each new EpicNG satellite.

The increased efficiency of the EpicNG technology will also drive down the cost per bit delivered approaching the same cost that the DoD spends owning its own wideband satellites, but with continuous innovation and enhancements versus a virtually static program.

Commercial SATCOM is just one component of the new space architecture, but it can handle the wideband mission for the future. Budget dollars are finite, and the government should focus its investments on unique and highly specialized capabilities that are not available commercially.

And the industry stands ready to do more. The recent study award on how the commercializing the AFSCN network was an encouraging sign this year. Intelsat operates a highly reliable, global TT&C network and this same network can be leveraged by the government, savings manpower and costs.

Finally, there’s no way I can close the book on space in 2014 without acknowledging the vision and leadership shown by government decision-makers. Lt. Gen Pawlikowski recently moved from SMC to the Pentagon staff, but HoPS was due in large part to her vision. In her new position she’ll continue to be influential on acquisition reform.

At SMC Pawlikowski was replaced by General Greaves who brings an enormous wealth of experience in space operations as well as programming and acquisition, and will be instrumental to the improved integration of military and commercial satellite services acquisition.

The industry lost General Shelton when he recently retired, a very forward-leaning voice for exploring new concepts. He was replaced by General Hyten, who looks to continue that theme with a specific emphasis on improving space asset survivability. Lt Gen Raymond, Commander, 14th Air Force and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC) has been a thought leader in space operations for 30 years. The industry is deeply appreciative of his continued support for the JFCC Space Operator Talks, which is now one of the ONLY forums where USG and commercial space operators are sharing information and working toward future partnerships.

The USG/commercial conversation continues to be supported by the efforts of Dave Madden at SMC, and Doug Loverro at the Pentagon. Members of Congress such as Representatives Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Mike Rogers (R-AL) among others have proven to be allies in the effort to think outside the box and create an atmosphere that encourages innovation in pursuit of maintaining America’s supremacy in space.

Both have stated the need for smarter acquisition of satellite communications through longer-term procurement policy among other acquisition reform efforts.  Leaders such as these have accomplished a great deal of foundational work critical for action to take place. Never before has such a diverse and senior set of leaders – from the DoD, the Pentagon and the Hill – shared a cohesive vision for America in space, and been in the position to execute on that vision.

 

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