Recently SatCom Frontier caught up with Dave Kaufman, Vice President and General Manager at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation. Ball specializes in building medium-sized satellites and instruments for a variety of mostly U.S. government customers.
Increasing threats in space coupled with a challenging budgetary climate are driving a culture change within the DoD. For the first time, there is significant agreement between government and the commercial sector on the need for alternative space architectures and streamlined procurement policies.
There is a great deal of analysis going on currently focused on taking the right “next step” in space. We asked Kaufman on his views of this culture shift and how it will change the government satellite market.
Q: Do you see a change in how the DoD perceives commercial satellite bandwidth, and how best to procure it?
Commercial satellite bandwidth lends itself to open-market procurement methods that can yield savings to the government when applied in the right way.
Long-term rather than short-term contracts with commercial providers could reduce overall costs for many types of DoD communication as an alternative to the historical model of doing business. The Commercial Satellite Communications Strategy Report from 2014 – prepared by the Pentagon’s chief information officer and delivered to Congress last September — promised to evaluate successes and failures of experimental funding and contracting methods, so that’s a step in the right direction.
Q: You’ve spoken in the past about disaggregation. What’s your view on how this improves resiliency?
At Ball, our resiliency strategy is to offer cost-effective payloads and medium class satellites that enable space capabilities to be deployed in a tight budget environment. Disaggregation is another tool that could improve resiliency for some missions if senior leaders decide to move in that direction, and we think we have offerings that could support it.
A nice feature of disaggregation is more frequent opportunities for new technology insertion that can expand capabilities. We understand that the government is evaluating the trade space to determine if disaggregation is effective in select situations. We think affordability will be important to any resilient architecture.
Q: How important are standardized interfaces to the value proposition of hosted payloads?
We are very much supporters of hosted payloads and standard payload interfaces. In fact we’re providing the very first HoPS payload, the TEMPO instrument for NASA that will measure pollutants in the air over North America.
Standard interfaces are a great enabler for hosted payloads since they allow payload providers to design to a known host capability in advance of host selection. We saw these benefits with our USAF Space Test Program Standard Interface Vehicle and Green Propellant Infusion Mission projects in which we’ve been able to host a variety of payloads over three standard interface spacecraft without changing the bus design.
Q: SATELLITE 2105 recently concluded – what have you heard coming out of the show?
While I did not attend the conference, it was clear from the news that the buzz centered on the new commercial remote sensing and communications constellations. As an established space company that prides itself on innovation, Ball has keen interest in enabling these types of missions.
Ball has teamed with OmniEarth to build a constellation of eighteen low-orbit Earth imaging satellites. The multitude of new applications and markets that weren’t conceivable 5 or 10 years ago could dramatically change the industry.
Q: What changes to you see happening in the satellite market over the next 12 – 18 months?
I see the rise of threats to the space and ground infrastructure influencing system design. Resiliency – the ability to achieve the mission with compromised or threatened assets – will be a prerequisite for all new systems. This means affordability, agility, system flexibility, information integration, and cyber security will be even more important.