The current budgetary climate has forced a change in how the DoD handles space acquisition. As highlighted in this recent National Defense magazine article, programs in the past were often plagued by billions in cost overruns and up to a decade delay in a system’s full operational capability.
And the overruns were likely underestimated since the costs of operating ground systems were often not figured into the estimates. That’s one reason why national security space programs are so expensive – there is no “central requirements clearinghouse” in the Air Force acquisition process for combining satellite ground operation requirements into a common ground architecture.
Additionally, in a “build or buy” decision, the government often defaults to building their own satellite ground network and systems—even though resilient and secure commercial infrastructure exists. Thankfully, that is now changing. The proposed Air Force Space Command-integrated Space Operations Enterprise is on track to define a Concept of Operations and a common Enterprise Ground Architecture to include commercial satellite telemetry, tracking, and commanding (TT&C) services for future DoD satellite operations.
In a period of shrinking budgets, Air Force satellite program offices can no longer hit the “easy button” and build their own unique ground systems for every program. For that reason the Air Force is re-thinking their approach to acquiring and maintaining satellite ground systems in a sustainable way. General Hyten, Commander for the US Air Force Space Command, is the visionary behind the SOE vision and he states the case plainly in the article:
“Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. John Hyten said he wants a common ground system that can operate (on) any satellite.
‘We have spent tens and hundreds of millions of dollars on stand-alone ground systems … If we keep on going on this path, we’ll have five separate ground systems to operate five separate satellites. It’s the dumbest thing in the world,’ he said in a speech at the recent Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. ‘We have to get to common ground system … and we’re going to get to it one way or another. We cannot fail in this endeavor.’”
Hyten’s leadership will take DoD Space Operations into a new era of resiliency, efficiency, and affordability by leveraging a common ground and commercial services approach to solving the most pressing issues for a sustainable DoD Space Operations Enterprise.
A big part of the solution for getting there is a complete commercialization of DoD satellite operations and the leveraging of commercial telecommunication and data transport services. A possible analogy to the challenge is how we all—individual consumers, businesses, and the Government—contract for mobile telephone services today. We don’t build our own cellular network! Why would we, when the network is proven and available today? Concerns about security are met with encryption and other methods—and the same is done in the world of commercial satellites. How concerned do you think a major broadcaster is about the surety of their Super Bowl feeds, or a stock exchange is about secure data delivery?
But this is how the DoD has procured their telecommunications capabilities in the past. Meanwhile, commercial satellite owner/operators such as Intelsat have been operating a secure, global satellite system and providing satellite operations services for decades.
Intelsat provides flight and ground operations services to numerous commercial companies who do not have their own satellite TT&C ground infrastructure. From launch support to on-orbit raising and testing along with lifetime operations, Intelsat provides this service for approximately 50 owned and 25 third-party customer satellites in GEO, HEO, and MEO orbits.
Intelsat General is ready to support Gen Hyten’s Space Operations Enterprise and is perfectly positioned to apply the same commercial best practices, efficiencies, and resiliency we provide for commercial customers every day. We’re also ready to support DoD satellite programs such as Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS), GPS, and Air Force Satellite Control Network with superior and proven space-based and ground system services.