We Can’t Go Back to Life Without Satellites

graphic via gizmodo.com

graphic via gizmodo.com

Appearing on the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” just over a year ago, Gen. John Hyten, who heads U.S. Air Force Space Command, warned that “without satellites, you go back to World War II. You go back to Industrial Era warfare.”

In the April edition of Aerospace America, Maryland research scholar Theresa Hitchens wrote that because civilians and the military are so dependent on commercial satellite capability, “attacks on those spacecraft could cripple the economy.”

In a June 6 commentary in Space News magazine, David Logsdon, executive director of the CompTIA Space Enterprise Council, made the consequences of losing satellites more personal: “No Internet. No smartphone. No weather forecasts in the palm of your hand. Nightmarish flight delays thanks to a hobbled air traffic management system. A military that is literally fighting blind: no satellite imagery. No reliable global communications. No precision-guided anything.

Civilian government becomes chaotic without satellites. Disaster relief, increasingly driven by satellite imagery and social media, returns to days when it was slower, more ponderous and saved fewer lives. Police, fire and other emergency responders go back in time. Weather forecasting becomes hit or miss.

Having an understanding of the critical role satellites play in modern society is becoming more widespread. Satellites’ influence on our culture and everyday lives can be seen in the technology for growing the grapes for our wine or wheat for our bread; in bringing us our news; in selling our homes; and in a growing number of other ways that have advanced our civilization.

Anyone who has tried to use a credit card at a store having computer/satellite link issues can understand. Trying to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine that has gone down brings to mind the stifling economic impact of cutting off satellite connectivity.

More recently, imagining a world without reliable satellite connectivity has assumed a greater sense of reality – and urgency — because of declarations by the U.S. military and others that space has become more crowded and contested. Potential adversaries are developing threatening technology and the “Pax Americana” in space is coming to an end.

Assumptions of a benign environment in which satellites are safe are history. That’s one of the reasons for the development of Intelsat’s EpicNG satellites, the second of which – IS 33e — is scheduled for launch in August. While capacity and versatility are drivers in the multiple spot beam and open architecture design of EpicNG, the satellite’s digital payload adds reliance with improved jamming and interference protection.

Words such as resilience are as much a part of the space vernacular as sensors. It needs to be part of a discussion, and not just limited to the military and space industry. Writes Logsdon: “[Research shows] growth in the global space economy has consistently outperformed global economic growth. Yet, in national discussions that focus on key economic enablers, the space industry is rarely part of the equation.”

To some extent that is changing. In a recent speech, Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) told a group, “Competition for space business is fierce and our laws and regulations need to catch up with these entrepreneurs and their innovative ideas.”

Without changes in the approach to space, though, entrepreneurship and innovation run into threats. Logsdon suggests these changes:

  • The industry needs to broaden its targeted audience when articulating the importance of space-based assets.
  • Hyten’s Space Enterprise Vision, outlined at the National Space Symposium in April, should be implemented and sustained. It calls for a multi-domain mindset in the approach to both space and cyberspace, and further calls for breaking down stovepipes that continue to exist in the military’s approach to space.
  • Resilience must be built into the space enterprise, and the government and industry must work together to assure that it is a major part of the plan for our space future.

Much of this change has to come from the military doing a better job of leveraging the innovation of the commercial satellite industry. Modern society has a large stake in this as well.

No one wants to experience life without satellites.

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