A Partnership in Space – Notes from SATCON 2012 Expo

A number of us here at IGC are just back from the SATCON 2012 Conference last week in New York City. Our praise and thanks to the SATCON staff and New York officials who, despite the damage from Hurricane Sandy, carried the show off without a hitch.

The keynote address by Lt. General Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), caused quite a buzz. Her fundamental message was that the military and commercial providers will be partners in space for a long time to come.

The biggest reason she cited was the need for “disaggregated architectures” – spreading SATCON resources around in orbit rather than concentrating them on a few, more-easily-targeted spacecraft. The disaggregated approach, however it is implemented, should provide better connectivity to the warfighter, greater resiliency and much greater affordability.  One of the best ways to accomplish disaggregation is through the increased use of hosted payloads.

Satellite Today has an excellent story up on Pawlikowski’s speech, entitled “Military Will Ride Commercial SATCOM for a ‘Long Time.’” Unfortunately, online access is limited. Here’s what the general is quoted as saying:

“Hosted payloads are a new trend, but not a new technology,” said Pawlikowski.  “The next generation of protected communication satellites may be integrated aboard an available commercial bus. We may also integrate these onto a commercial satellite system, but protected communication satellites hog up power and may not be a perfect fit for hosted payloads. Therefore, a smaller, dedicated spacecraft may be the preferred method as it would be more affordable than larger satellites. After all, AEHF satellites take seven years to build, and their development has suffered from cost overruns and schedule delays.”

 All of us who attended SATCON were very encouraged to hear that SMC is evaluating disaggregated architectures. It’s an efficient way to enable resilient and affordable military communications. 

Especially in the current budget environment, commercial has a critical role to play in offering affordable space capabilities to the government customer. We can bring significant savings to SMC space missions and we don't perceive any technical, spectrum or logistical showstoppers to protected Milsatcom affordably hosted on commercial satellites.

The article goes on to report that another of the reasons the military will continue to buy capacity on commercial satellites is because of the flexibility they provide. According to Pawlikowski, commercial systems have proven their ability to adapt to the military’s changing needs, and the military needs to take that into consideration for future systems.

Exactly! The reliance of the military on commercial bandwidth isn’t an issue that needs to be corrected; it’s a proven foundation upon which to build a true partnership in space.  In a recent address, IGC President Kay Sears talked about the current budgetary climate being a possible catalyst for such a partnership to finally blossom.

With this sort of fresh thinking on display at SATCON 2012, the coming year could be very promising for innovation in space despite a challenging budgetary climate.