New Space Challenges Require New Solutions

 

Recently I attended the 2014 Space Tech Expo conference in Long Beach, California. The Expo addresses core strategic issues facing the DoD, civilian government and commercial space sectors. I came away from the event this year more convinced than ever that a new kind of thinking is taking hold on how best to tackle our challenges in space.

Here are some of the comments shared at the event that stuck with me. (Note – I’m paraphrasing here and these are not direct quotes):

“A blended architecture is the future (dedicated, hosting, leasing etc.)” Rob Aalseth, MILSATCOM

“Studies show we can save 29% on a bus by driving interoperability and modularity (i.e.  MONA).” Bernard Collins, ODNI

“National space policy (e.g. commercial use, HPs) is not supported by sub-policies and practices (spectrum, ITAR, long term leasing, international launch)” Jim Simpson, BSSI

These sentiments and others are examples of a growing acceptance that today’s challenges in space require more than yesterday’s solutions, including increased commercial participation. This view is supported by an increasing amount of research being done on the issue.

A report much discussed at the Expo was titled “The Value of Time for the Department of Defense.” Basically the report is a historical and very thorough review of DoD acquisition cycles. As the title suggests, time is not something government puts a value to, and this greatly contributes to much longer acquisition cycles.

In one example used in the report, AIA depicts how the adoption of commercial best practices could make government acquisition cycles faster by four years and could save over $10 billion per year across all top level acquisition categories.

The report recommends three steps that could immediately improve government acquisition cycles:

  • Establish a technology maturity threshold – no unproven capabilities
  • Freeze requirements at a set decision point – no more scope creep
  • Establish milestones for deadlines – rewards AND penalties

Another manifestation of new thinking is the concept known as Space Universal Modular Architecture, or SUMO. Coming out of ODNI, this is an effort to reduce the cost of maintaining America’s supremacy in space. This could be accomplished through enhanced interoperability of components, whether through application specific interfaces or through industry collaboration.

Developing this kind of modularity could have saved the USG almost $19 billion over nine years, and deliver other benefits besides cost reduction. These include increased mission assurance, much easier integration of improved technology and true mission reconfigurability.

This kind of interoperability makes an innovative approach like hosted payloads even more powerful. It was good to see Jim Simpson of BSSI make this point in a recent Avionics Intelligence article.

And these advances by manufacturers also benefit the commercial industry, driving down costs due to standardization around a few common platforms. This makes the U.S. space industry more competitive internationally, and can benefit government customers through lower pricing. There are obviously some up front non-recurring costs and I don’t mean to oversimplify the effort, but when one takes a long view, the net benefits are clear.

These sorts of developments are very encouraging. Government and industry need to have a collaborative conversation on how best to build out and strengthen our national space architecture. I believe that inclusive conversation is picking up steam.

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