Report from the 30th Space Symposium

The 30th Space Symposium just drew to a close last week in Colorado Springs. Each year this event brings together government and commercial space leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities in this dynamic industry, and this year was no different. What did seem different was the crystallization of some key themes I would like to highlight because our company is part of the overall satellite communications architecture that helps maintain the U.S. advantage in the critical domain of space.

Budgets are coming down, while threats are going up.

This was a commonly echoed theme noted by several key U.S. government leaders. Declining budgets have occurred before, especially when winding down major conflicts, but this period of programmatic decline is unique in that it is occurring at a time of dramatically rising threats and global uncertainty.

To account for this, several speakers called for innovation and partnerships with commercial and international allies to enhance U.S. capabilities in an affordable manner. Many believe that part of the solution is to balance increasingly capable commercial capabilities with what the government should own and operate, layered with international partner assets and capabilities.

Protected Communications is critical for the future.

Though the path is not clear on how to get there, what was clear is that both commercial and military satellite communication systems will need greater levels of protection in the future. Speakers acknowledged that the protected tactical waveform (PTW) is a step in the right direction and that other levels of protection also need exploring. Satellite designs and features such as nulling and shaping would add protection.

These enhancements could be added to any frequency band, including C, Ku and Ka. We must work with our government partners to define the levels of protection needed for specific applications in order to provide a more survivable and affordable communications architecture.

Efforts are underway to design a more resilient space architecture.

Though final architecture decisions are still some time away, and likely will continue to evolve, resiliency seems to be a significant goal for both the Department of Defense and the intelligence community as they look to the future. One concept discussed heavily at the symposium was disaggregation and the need to separate national assets from tactical communication missions while diversifying those missions for increased survivability.

Several panels highlighted how commercial operators can play an important role in this new architecture and help move toward achieving greater resiliency. Concepts such as hosted payloads, small satellites, and data path diversification were among the ideas discussed. Panel participants agreed that certain “cultural” barriers must be addressed in order to move forward on a host of policy, programmatic, and implementation themes to promote greater mission assurance. Most people believe these cultural issues are solvable and many expressed the desire to stop studying and planning, and start doing!

Consensus exists among great space leaders.

Another encouraging theme was that many of America’s great space leaders are aligned in their thinking of what the U.S. needs to do to remain competitive in space. More than ever, we are encouraged by what we are hearing and seeing from leaders in industry and government, including the military, the intelligence community and elected officials. They all recognize that the space environment is changing at a time of difficult budget issues. They also see the need for disaggregation and greater resilience, as well as the role that commercial and international partners can play.

So many leaders at each level are working, often within difficult political frameworks, to move forward on initiatives to improve the U.S. advantages in space, even as budgets decline.  Among them are leaders such as Ms. Betty Sapp, Mr. Doug Loverro, Lt. Gen. John Hyten, Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, Mr. Damon Wells, and Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan.  And many, many more are working within their lanes to further the defense of the United States.

We want to especially acknowledge Gen. William Shelton for his vision and leadership and 38 years of tremendous service to the space community and the United States. Many of the ideas he put in motion must now be moved further by those who will follow him in his role as leader of the U.S. Air Force Space Command.

We left this year’s Space Symposium full of optimism. Challenges remain: The threat is cunning and growing, budget pressures will remain, and many will seek to maintain the unsustainable status quo. Yet, we are encouraged more than ever by those who are thinking outside the box and have challenged us in industry to provide unique, resilient, and affordable solutions for the United States. With them we are re-energized to do just that.