Last week we were honored to feature an instructive interview with General John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command here on SatCom Frontier. General Hyten spoke extensively about the need of Space Command to become faster and more nimble, to address maturing threats from potential adversaries in space and to extend real-time capabilities to all areas of the globe.
IGC has been an important partner to Space Command since the first Gulf conflict. We’ve developed new and innovative technology and shown our willingness to be flexible to help Space Command achieve the mission laid out eloquently by General Hyten. And there have been encouraging signs of change on the procurement front in recent years to better deliver this technological innovation to the military user.
Much work still needs to be done on that front, however. I recently laid out some specific examples in an interview with Global Military Solutions magazine. (Editor’s note – no direct link, but publication is available via free registration.)
In 2014 the Hosted Payloads Solution (HoPS) IDIQ contract was awarded, which was an important first step in enabling use of the innovative hosted payload approach for all government space users. As promising as it is to have a contract vehicle in place, HoPS contains no mechanism for actually building payloads to be hosted. Nor does it provide a framework for commercial and government entities to work together on hosted payloads. IGC is committed to addressing these challenges and keeping the hosted payload option viable for Space Command, via SMC, and other U.S. government users with a need for access to space.
The Future Communications Satellite Acquisition (FCSA) is another good example of both exciting progress and more work to be done. The FCSA framework includes both bandwidth only Schedule 70 acquisitions as well as end-to-end CS2 requirements. I’d say the Schedule 70 component has been working well to support the military customer simply looking for raw bandwidth capacity.
The performance on the CS2 side has been much less satisfactory. Part of this is happening due to the slower pace of new requirements. But it’s also due to the fact that the contract acts as a way to achieve small business goals. There is certainly a place for small business, but many of these end-to-end task orders have been for big, multi-transponder deals that no small business has the in-house infrastructure to support or fulfill. We’ve been down this road before in satellite acquisition: You have to ask the critical question, where is the added benefit for the government end customer? First and foremost this has to be about mission assurance ahead of small business goals
Another excellent example of commercial space technology that would help keep the U.S. ahead of potential adversaries is the pending wave of new high-throughput satellites (HTS). The soon-to-be-launched Intelsat EpicNG platform provides performance well beyond what the current WGS constellation delivers. This development of highly advanced capabilities is a logical result of an additional decade of technological innovation that comes from Boeing, the spacecraft manufacturer that also contracted the WGS spacecraft more than ten years ago. These dramatic performance enhancements would be key to the real-time capabilities General Hyten wants to extend.
2015 will be a critical year in space. A widespread conversation is going on between government and the commercial providers that can be summed up as “What’s next?” What’s the best technology to use, what comes after WGS is complete, what can we all do together to make an enormous space effort with many moving parts become faster and more nimble?
I believe the answers are coming into focus, and we need to maintain our present momentum.