USSF (United States Space Force)
The USSF is a new branch of the Armed Forces. It was established on December 20, 2019 with enactment of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The USSF was established within the Department of the Air Force, meaning the Secretary of the Air Force has overall responsibility for the USSF, under the guidance and direction of the Secretary of Defense. — The USSF is a military service that organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. USSF responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands. 1)
USSF organization: The USSF Headquarters and Office of the CSO (Chief of Space Operations) are located in the Pentagon, just like the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. This staff will focus on establishing a fully-functioning headquarters; preparing to execute the full scope of its organize, train, and equip responsibilities; and, in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force, developing a detailed plan to transfer forces into the U.S. Space Force. As a new military service, the U.S. Space Force will leverage the Department of the Air Force for more than 75 percent of its enabling functions to significantly reduce cost and avoid duplication. The Department of the Air Force will provide support functions that includes logistics, base operating support, civilian personnel management, business systems, IT support, audit agencies, etc.
Some background: While the launch of the U.S. Space Force propels the United States into a new era, the Department of the Air Force has a proud history and long-standing record of providing the best space capabilities in the world. 2)
On Sept. 1, 1982, the Air Force established Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), with space operations as its primary mission. Cold War-era space operations focused on missile warning, launch operations, satellite control, space surveillance and command and control for national leadership. In 1991, Operation DESERT STORM validated the command's continuing focus on support to the warfighter through the use of GPS to enable the famous “Left Hook,” proving the value of space-based capabilities to joint military operations.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (in 2001), the President directed military action against Afghanistan and Iraq. AFSPC provided extensive space-based support to the U.S. Central Command commander in areas of communications; positioning, navigation and timing; meteorology; and warning. In 2005, the Air Force expanded its mission areas to include cyberspace. In concert with this, the Air Staff assigned responsibility for conducting cyberspace operations to AFSPC through Twenty-Fourth Air Force, which was activated in August 2009.
In July 2018, the Air Force cyber mission transferred to Air Combat Command, which generated the greatest capacity for an integrated Information Warfare capability within the Air Force. This move allowed AFSPC to focus on gaining and maintaining space superiority and outpacing our adversaries in the space domain.
With the enactment of the FY20 (Fiscal Year 2020) NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), AFSPC was re-designated the U.S. Space Force on December 20, 2019, granting Title 10 authorization to the U.S. Space Force, established under the Department of the Air Force.
Along with the new name USSF, there was also some renaming of locations, like VSFB (Vandenberg Space Force Base) for former VAFB (Vandenberg Air Force Base).
The Space Force operates six primary bases, seven smaller stations, and one air base in Greenland. Currently, three of the bases and four of the stations formerly under the control of Air Force Space Command have transitioned to the United States Space Force, however the Space Force has already assumed operational control of the remaining bases through its garrisons. On 9 December 2020, Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida were the first Space Force installations renamed, becoming Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. 3)
On May 14, 2021, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was renamed Vandenberg Space Force Base. It also has ten units based outside the contiguous United States in Greenland, the United Kingdom, Ascension Island, Diego Garcia atoll, Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam. During the transition from Air Force control, only one facility renaming has gone beyond replacing the Air Force designation, that of Kaena Point Space Force Station in Hawaii, which the Air Force called Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station. 4)
Figure 1: Vice President Mike Pence announced 9 December 2020, that Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base are being renamed as Space Force installations (image credit: U.S. Space Force)
USSF Capabilities: The new, independent U.S. Space Force will maintain and enhance the competitive edge of the DOD in space while adapting to new strategic challenges.
Spacelift operations at the East and West Coast launch bases provide services, facilities and range safety control for the conduct of DOD, NASA and commercial space launches. Through the command and control of all DOD satellites, satellite operators provide force-multiplying effects – continuous global coverage, low vulnerability and autonomous operations. Satellites provide essential in-theater secure communications, weather and navigational data for ground, air and fleet operations and threat warning.
Ground-based and space-based systems
monitor ballistic missile launches around the world to guard against a
surprise missile attack on North America. A global network of space
surveillance sensors provide vital information on the location of
satellites and space debris for the nation and the world. Maintaining
space superiority is an emerging capability required to protect U.S.
space assets from hostile attacks.
USSF News and Developments
• January 19, 2022: The U.S. Air Force awarded SpaceX a $102 million five-year contract to demonstrate technologies and capabilities to transport military cargo and humanitarian aid around the world on a heavy rocket. 5)
- The contract is for the rocket cargo program, a new project led by the Air Force Research Laboratory to investigate the utility of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics.
Figure 2: Rendering of a 'rocket cargo' vehicle set to launch and deliver supplies for the U.S. military (image credit: Air Force Research Laboratory)
- Greg Spanjers, rocket cargo program manager, said in a statement to SpaceNews that the contract formalizes a government-industry partnership to help “determine exactly what a rocket can achieve when used for cargo transport, what is the true capacity, speed, and cost of the integrated system.”
- The contract, awarded on Jan. 14, was not announced by the Air Force and was first reported by AviationWeek.com.
- This is the largest contract awarded to date for rocket cargo. U.S. Transportation Command in 2020 signed cooperative research and development agreements with SpaceX and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) to study concepts for rapid transportation through space. The command last month also signed a CRADA (Cooperative Research and Development Agreement) with Blue Origin.
- The contract is not specific to any of SpaceX’s launch vehicles. AFRL will have access to SpaceX’s commercial orbital launches and booster landings to collect key data on environments signatures and performance. SpaceX also will provide cargo bay designs that support rapid load and unload and are compatible with U.S. TRANSCOM intermodal containers. The contract also includes an option for a full-up demonstration of heavy cargo transport and landing.
- “Commercial vendors envision fixed point-to-point transport to established sites, a commercial service that we are certainly interested in procuring once available,” said Spanjers. He said DoD is “very interested in the ability to deliver the cargo anywhere on Earth to support humanitarian aid and disaster relief.”
- Many areas where disasters occur don’t have commercial space ports, however. “We are therefore exploring a wider range of novel trajectories to mitigate overflight issues, exploring a broad range of landing options for austere sites, researching human factors when landing near populations, and a integrating a broader range of cargo including medical supplies,” he said.
- SpaceX and the Air Force will explore the use of intermodal containers that are compatible with other transportation delivery modes.
- Spanjers said there is no specified timeline for a demonstration at this point. “AFRL will be leveraging several commercial demonstration launches over the next few years to collect the data,” he said. The Air Force “does not drive this schedule but rather will collect data whenever SpaceX flies relevant missions.”
- A full-up demonstration of heavy cargo transport capability to another location on Earth could be attempted in a few years but that has yet to be decided.
- “Significant heavy cargo from orbit has not been previously attempted,” said Spanjers. “It will fully stress the commercial thermal protection system, landing propulsion, and landing legs.”
- The Air Force plans to bring in other companies into the program over time, he said. “We continue to talk to other launch vehicle providers and will consider awarding additional contracts later in the program.”
• January 19, 2022: The Space Force is a separate U.S. military branch but will have to stay “tightly coupled” to the Air Force in order to be successful, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Jan. 19. 6)
Figure 3: Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall speaks at the 2021 National Defense Transportation conference at National Harbor, Md. (image credit: U.S. Air Force)
- Kendall, the top civilian leader of both the Air Force and the Space Force, spoke at a Center for a New American Security virtual event.
- Because of its small size, the Space Force needs significant support from the Department of the Air Force to perform its activities, Kendall said. The Space Force operates the military’s satellite systems and also is responsible to provide space-based services to the Defense Department and allies such as communications, navigation, weather and missile warning.
- When the Space Force was established, officials projected it would have a force of about 16,000 people, and was intentionally created as a lean organization due to congressional concerns about the cost of adding a new military branch.
- The Space Force currently has 13,525 members known as guardians, 50% of whom are military service members, with the other half made up of civilians. The Space Force is tiny compared to the Air Force that has more than 650,000 military personnel. including active duty, Air National Guard and reserve forces.
- Kendall said his office is still reviewing the Space Force organization, its dependence on the Air Force and where it might need additional help, he added. “We are looking at those arrangements. And we’ll be doing some fine tuning and tweaking,” Kendall said. “We want the Space Force to be an independent, separate service. But we also want it to stay as tightly coupled to the Air Force and the Department of the Air Forces as it’s necessary for it to be a success.”
- The chief of staff of the Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown and the chief of space operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond have worked to “establish a solid relationship between the two services as well as with the secretary,” Kendall said.
- Because space is vital to national security and is a domain of war, the Space Force is “very small terms of numbers of people, but it’s very large in terms of its importance,” Kendall said. “But in order for it to be successful, it’s going to need a lot of support from the Air Force, and also from the department Air Force. So we’re trying to make all those arrangements work as effectively as possible.”
- One advantage of being small is that the Space Force can adapt to change more easily that the larger military services, Kendall noted. “So I think they can be a an experimental area or pilot for things that we could broaden and expand to greater scale.”
- For example, the Space Force has a goal of being a “digital service” that uses cutting-edge data analytics and information technology. “I think that’s a worthy goal. And one that the larger department hasn’t really caught up with yet, and hasn’t done as much as it could,” Kendall said. “So there is an attempt to establish a unique culture, but also to keep it tightly coupled to the Air Force as a whole.”
Space Force personnel reforms
- One area where the Space Force will seek to depart from tradition is in personnel retention and workforce management, Raymond said Jan. 19 at at a separate event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
- For example, the Space Force is considering giving people more flexibility in pursuing assignments and lateral transfers based on their career goals. “We want to give people opportunities to go to NASA for an assignment, come back, go to industry, and come back.”
- As a new service, “we are trying to start with a clean sheet of paper and think very differently,” Raymond said. “If we go into this and just iterate our way down the path and become nothing more than an air force that changes a little bit here and there, we’ve missed a huge opportunity.”
- Going through these early steps, he said, “we want to be bold but not reckless.”
• January 18, 2022: The longer the U.S. government operates under a continuing resolution (CR), the higher the probability that national security space launches will see major delays, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said Jan. 18. 7)
- The Space Force requested funding for five national security launches in fiscal year 2022. Under a CR, government funding is frozen at the previous year’s levels and the Space Force had funding for three missions in 2021. If lawmakers don’t reach an agreement next month on fiscal 2022 spending and a CR continues, two missions funded in 2022 would have to be pushed into the 2023 budget or beyond, Raymond said at a Mitchell Institute event.
- “If we get a budget in February, we would continue with our five launches, but if we enter into a long term CR, we would have to reduce two of those five launches,” said Raymond.
- The Space Systems Command already has identified which two missions would be removed from the 2022 budget if it came to that, said Raymond, “and they are really important launches for us as we compete to win against Russia and China,” he added. “So again I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a budget passed.”
- These launch delays would affect both national security launch services providers United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.
- Protracted CRs significantly impact the military’s launch program because missions are procured two years in advance, Raymond said. “A l0ng term CR would have ripple effects, so it’s more than just a one year impact” as missions that would have been procured in 2022 would slip to 2023 or 2024, and 2023 missions could be pushed to 2024 and 2025.
- The current CR expires Feb. 18. The House has passed nine of 12 federal spending bills for fiscal 2022 but Senate appropriators have approved only three. And none of these bills have made it to the president’s desk.
• January 17, 2022: The U.S. Space Force is considering buying weather data services from commercial satellite operators. The military specifically wants cloud characterization data and theater weather imagery to supplement data collected by its own sensor satellites. This need currently cannot be met by the commercial industry and likely will require significant new investment, industry executives told SpaceNews. 8)
Figure 4: View of the northern hemisphere from the GOES-17 geostationary satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (image credit: NOAA)
- The military’s interest in purchasing weather data as a service was laid out in a request for information posted Jan. 14 by the Space Force’s Space Systems Command. Responses are due Feb. 24.
- “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” said John Fisher, president of Brandywine Photonics, a company that won an Air Force Small Business Innovation Research contract in 2018 to develop a theater weather imaging and cloud characterization sensor.
- “Multiple companies can provide a technical solution that can meet the requirements, but it would require a significant investment to put up the capability to provide the service on orbit,” he said. “Investors want to know that Space Force will buy the data before building the sensors with special requirements.”
DoD has unique needs
- The Space Force in 2020 selected three companies — Raytheon, General Atomics and ASTRA Space — to develop electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) weather satellite concepts. It plans to select one or more vendors to build a system in low Earth orbit for the Defense Department. These EO/IR satellites need to be deployed by 2025 before the military’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSO) satellites run out of fuel.
- Separately, the Space Force wants to start buying commercial EO/IR weather data as a service in 2025 to supplement these future satellites it plans to buy. The Space Force also may provide “limited upfront funding for the development of the service.”
- David Crain, CEO of space startup ExoTerra Imaging, said the RFI sends a demand signal and could lead to attractive business opportunities for the industry, although there are still many questions the government will need to answer about its strategy and funding to buy weather data as a service.
- Within the commercial space market for climate and weather data, the Defense Department is a narrow niche, executives said, and it would be difficult for businesses to justify investing in a constellation unless they can identify other customers for the service or the Space Force makes a long-term commitment to buy services.
- Cloud characterization and theater weather imagery are top priorities for DoD but “I don’t know of any company currently doing this as a commercial service,” said Crain.
- Cloud characterization data — measurements that help determine cloud cover and temperatures — and theater weather imagery are used to schedule intelligence satellites’ imagery collections, to plan aircraft sorties, search and rescue missions, airdrops and other activities impacted by weather. Polar-orbiting weather satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) support some of DoD’s needs but do not fly the early morning orbit like DMSP. That orbit is a specific gap that DoD has to fill.
- There are many commercial companies that could build this capability if the Space Force offered incentives such as upfront funding and long-lead contracts, said Crain. He suggested that another potential customer for EO/IR weather data providers would be Earth observation companies that collect optical imagery. These companies need near real-time forecasts of cloud coverage so they know where to position their satellites.
Using radar to image clouds
- Although the Space Force is asking for EO/IR data, weather startup Tomorrow.io argues that radar satellites also could meet military needs for cloud and weather imagery.
- The venture-funded company last year won a $19.3 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to support the deployment of a radar-equipped weather satellite constellation. Rei Goffer, co-founder and chief strategy officer, said the first of a planned 32-satellite constellation is projected to launch later this year.
- Under the Air Force contract, Tomorrow.io will provide data as a service to the military and other governmental agencies, including NOAA.
- Goffer said radar is an obvious fit for military weather data collection because it can see through clouds. “We came to the Air Force about a year ago and told them we’re going to build a radar system and they gave us nearly $20 million to go show it,” he said. If the system is successful, “we will get a data-as-a service contract immediately.”
- The Space Force does have a clear need for cloud characterization data, but EO/IR is “just one solution,” said Goffer. The company also is lining up commercial customers for its space radar-based weather service, he said, including airlines and maritime operators that want coverage over the oceans.
- Several commercial companies sell weather data to NOAA but the agency has different requirements than the military. NOAA in November released an RFI seeking information from industry providers, and it is currently buying commercial radio occultation data as a service from satellite operators GeoOptics and Spire Global.
- Radio occultation is a technique that uses GPS signals to measure properties of the Earth’s atmosphere from space.
- Conor Brown, director of federal sales at Spire, said the company does not provide the EO/IR data the Space Force is seeking but will be watching future “on ramp opportunities to deliver weather data as a service.”
- “There is obviously a large barrier to entry for these exquisite instrumentation and sensor types that they’re looking for,” said Brown. “Industry has the choice to either pursue prototype funding through the government or go out and make that investment on their own.”
• January 12, 2022: U.S. military satellite procurements and contracts for launch services have been put on hold and cannot move forward until Congress passes a full-year defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said in a statement to the House Appropriations Committee Jan. 12. 9)
Figure 5: Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force (left) and Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, chief of the U.S. Space Force, testify Jan. 12, 2022, at a virtual hearing of the House Appropriations Committee's (HAC) defense subcommittee (image credit: HAC livestream)
- Although fiscal year 2022 started Oct. 1, Congress has not passed appropriations bills for the military or for any other federal agency. The government is operating under a stopgap spending bill, or continuing resolution (CR) passed Dec. 3 that funds the government until Feb. 18.
- Under a CR, federal agencies can continue to operate but their funding is frozen at the previous year’s levels. Of concern to the Pentagon, new programs cannot be started and unneeded programs cannot be terminated under CR funding.
- During a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee on Wednesday, HAC-D Chair Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) said there is a chance that no agreement will be reached by Feb. 18 and that another CR would have to be passed to avert a government shutdown. “This approach would ignore current needs and have serious and harmful consequences on our national security,” she said.
- Raymond, along with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, told lawmakers at the virtual hearing that an extended CR would be damaging to the military’s ability to maintain its equipment, train forces and modernize systems.
- “As a new service, the Space Force would be particularly impacted by limits on new starts imposed by a yearlong CR,” said Raymond.
- The Biden Administration proposed a $2 billion funding increase for the Space Force in fiscal year 2022 but the service has to continue to operate at last year’s reduced funding. For example, said Raymond, $37 million that had been allocated for various satellite programs cannot be implemented, as well as $23 million that the Commercial Satellite Communications Office was counting on to acquire commercial satcom services.
- “The largest impact in the procurement account would be in the National Security Space Launch program, which ensures access to space, promotes competition, and eliminates reliance on Russian-made rocket engines,” said Raymond. “Under the CR, we would be limited to the same number of launch services from fiscal year 2021 — three — when we are planning to procure five,” Raymond added. “A yearlong CR would delay these launches by one year, slowing our ability to place previously acquired systems on orbit.”
• January 11, 2022: The Space Force lacks spare parts for much of the equipment needed to support launches from the Eastern and Western Ranges, an issue that could loom larger as launch activities at both spaceports increase. 10)
Figure 6: Cape Canaveral and its various launch sites as seen from orbit. Growing demand for launches there could be hindered by a lack of spare parts for some range equipment that is decades old and no longer manufactured, a report warned (image credit: NASA)
- A report released by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General Jan. 7 found that the Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and the Western Range at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California continue to rely on aging equipment to support launches that, in some cases, forces the service to turn to marketplaces like eBay to find spare parts.
- The review found that, of the various range items like radars, antennas and command destruct systems needed to support launches, 28% lacked spare parts because those items were obsolete. That includes equipment no longer manufactured, sometimes from companies now defunct.
- The report noted one example of a telemetry antenna on the Western Range that was first operational in 1967. The service no longer had spares for it because the manufacturer was out of business. “According to the Space Force, the average age of range items with a potential mission impact and no available spares was more than 30 years old,” the report stated.
- “During our site visit to Vandenberg,” the report added, “multiple personnel responsible for range item maintenance stated that they sometimes searched for spare parts for some components from resale sites, such as eBay.”
- Range maintenance issues have not been a major issue for launches at either range in recent years. The report found no examples of range problems between January 2016 and March 2021 that caused a launch scrub other than a wildfire at Vandenberg in 2016 that damaged communications lines and postponed a launch.
- However, the inspector general’s report cautioned that a projected surge in launch activity creates an “increased risk that aging range items with obsolete components could limit launch capacity” on the ranges. A Space Force forecast included in the report projected the number of launches on the Eastern Range to grow from 57 in 2022 to 119 in 2027, an increase driven almost entirely by commercial activity. The Western Range is projected to see an increase from 23 launches in 2022 to 38 in 2027, again because of commercial activity.
- One approach to mitigate that risk is using autonomous flight safety systems (AFSS) on launch vehicles in place of conventional range safety systems, able to terminate a launch if a malfunction threatens safety. Space Launch Delta 45, which operates the Eastern Range, noted in the report that a recent launch of a vehicle without an AFSS required 29 range items to support, while one with an AFSS required only six. The Space Force requires all vehicles launching from the ranges to use an AFSS by October 2025.
- In a talk Jan. 10 at the annual meeting of the Global Spaceport Alliance, an organization of current and prospective spaceports, Col. Mark Shoemaker, vice commander for operations of Space Launch Delta 45, said the range has been working to handle that increased launch demand by working cooperatively with launch companies and other organizations, like the Federal Aviation Administration, on ways to maximize the number of launches and decrease the advance notice needed for scheduling launches.
- “In the end, we are all working towards the same goal: maximizing throughput, maximizing mission success, maximizing opportunity for all actors on the range,” he said. “We’ve been successful the last two or three years as the rates have gone up.”
- That approach will only go so far, though. “At some point, within the current structures and the current institutions that we have, we’re going to hit a limit,” he warned. “I don’t know when and where that limit is, and I’m not sure we’ll know we’ve hit it until it’s right in front of us, but we’re trying to understand what is.”
- The Space Force is working on range modernization efforts to address the concerns in the report, a project called Range of the Future. “It’s an unfortunate name,” said Col. James Horne, deputy director of launch and range operations for Space Systems Command at Patrick Space Force Base, at the Global Spaceport Alliance meeting. “We believe that it’s the ‘range of the now.’ There’s so many things that we’ve done just to enable the current surge we’re seeing in launch.”
- “There’s still a lot more to do,” he added.
• January 9, 2022: What mix of satellites will be needed to meet rising demand for connectivity and make systems resilient to cyber attacks will be the subject of a deep-dive study by the U.S. Space Force. 11)
- The work will be done by the SWAC (Space Warfighting Analysis Center), a new organization created to design the military’s future space architecture.
- The SWAC will seek to answer questions such as how much satellite capacity in what orbits is needed to support U.S. military users and how much of that demand could be met by commercial satcom, versus government-owned satellites. SWAC analysts will use models and simulations to to design hybrid architectures of commercial and government satellites and assess their vulnerabilities to threats like cyber attacks.
- The SWAC is tasked to look at what technologies and systems will be needed by the future force and help the Space Force develop a procurement strategy, David Voss, director of the SWAC’s spectrum warfare center of excellence, said Jan. 7.
- Voss spoke during a virtual event held by the Mitchell Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group that published a report last month suggesting that DoD needs to rethink its approach to buying satcom. The report noted that the current architecture relies on decades-old technology and was not designed for the speed and complexity of military operations in the information age.
- The SWAC will design an architecture that would address the needs of all DoD users, Voss said. The analysis will be reviewed by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff so it can inform requirements documents that are needed to get funding approved and start new procurement programs.
- The procurement of commercial satcom for the U.S. military is managed by the Space Systems Command’s Commercial Satellite Communication Office, known as CSCO. But multiple other agencies and organizations within DoD also acquire satcom, resulting in fragmented efforts and incompatible equipment, the Mitchell Institute pointed out in the report:
- “Historically, numerous authorities spread across different combatant commands, services, DOD agencies, and acquisition organizations have been responsible for procuring and operating various satcom systems and services. ... The current satcom enterprise consists of highly customized capabilities with limited interoperability and operational flexibility.”
- The SWAC will examine the problem with a broad scope. One of the questions it will address, said Voss, is how commercial networks could be weaved into the military’s satcom enterprise and what impact that might have on the resiliency of networks and on ground-equipment requirements.
- Voss said the architecture design would be a long-term project and get continuous updates. “It will be a work in progress for a while,” he said. “We can’t wait years to do analytics and make decisions so we are implementing at the SWAC a continuous integration model of analytic processes.”
- The Mitchell report argues that the Space Force and DoD need to pay immediate attention to this issue. Space-based communications is a critical capability to enable data sharing and interoperability across the military services, the report said. Commercial companies are offering low-latency and high-bandwidth broadband services in low, medium and geostationary orbits, providing DoD an opportunity to bring these services into the military satcom architecture.
- “The U.S. military relies on satellite communications to support the bulk of its over-the-horizon communications, but its current systems are poorly aligned to meet the requirements of its emerging operational concepts and are increasingly vulnerable to adversary counterspace capabilities,” said the report. “Modern military operations are increasingly data intensive and dispersed, requiring secure networks to reliably share large amounts of data with minimal latency over vast distances, across different domains, to large numbers of users.”
Satcom issue was studied for years
- Before the Space Force was established, the Air Force spent years studying the military’s future satcom needs. An “analysis of alternatives” mandated by Congress started in 2016 and wrapped up in 2018. It looked at how military and commercial systems could collectively provide a resilient architecture able to withstand cyber attacks and electronic jamming.
- The study found that integrating purpose-built satellites and commercial systems into a hybrid architecture “would save costs and provide more capability than any single purpose-built or commercial system alone,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a December 2019 report. GAO pointed out that DoD did not take action to implement those recommendations.
- GAO noted that DoD uses a mix of purpose-built satellites — such as as the Wideband Global Satcom constellation — and commercial satcom contracts but has not historically managed these systems in coordination.
- Congress in recent years has specifically directed DoD to integrate commercial satcom into its architecture, and appropriators in the 2019 defense budget added nearly $50 million for “commercial satcom integration.”
- The Space Force in February 2020 unveiled a plan to change how it acquires satellite-based communications for DoD. “Despite the global, instantaneous reach of our satellite communications systems, which includes both military and commercial capabilities, the current loose federation of satcom systems needs to improve in resiliency, robustness, flexibility and manageability,” said the Space Force.
• January 6, 2022: Under a $2 million contract from the U.S. Space Force, Slingshot Aerospace will develop an analytics tool that uses location data from commercial satellites in low Earth orbit to identify potential sources of electronic interference on the ground. 12)
Figure 7: The U.S. Space Force wants to take advantage of the telemetry data available from the growing population of commercial satellites in low Earth orbit to track sources of radio-frequency interference (image credit: OneWeb artist concept)
- The project is an effort by the military to take advantage of the telemetry data available from the growing population of commercial satellites in LEO. The Space Systems Command said Jan. 4 that Slingshot will “develop a prototype that utilizes proliferated LEO mega-constellations to detect, locate, and mitigate radio frequency (RF) and GPS interference sources, which are direct threats to U.S. on-orbit space assets.”
- Slingshot will develop an analytics tool that ingests GPS telemetry data from commercial LEO constellations and uses it to paint a picture of RF hazards on the ground.
- The project is an effort by the military to take advantage of the telemetry data available from the growing population of commercial satellites in LEO. The Space Systems Command said Jan. 4 that Slingshot will “develop a prototype that utilizes proliferated LEO mega-constellations to detect, locate, and mitigate radio frequency (RF) and GPS interference sources, which are direct threats to U.S. on-orbit space assets.”
- The contract is funded by the Space Systems Command’s CASINO (Commercially Augmented space Inter-networked Operations) program, created to figure out ways for the military to use new space technology.
- Radio frequency interference has been a long-time problem for the military, exacerbated by the proliferation of electronic devices designed to disrupt GPS (Global Positioning System) and other satellite signals. One of the challenges is identifying the precise location and source of interference.
- Melanie Stricklan, CEO and co-founder of Slingshot Aerospace, said the company was selected by the Space Force’s Space Enterprise Consortium to prototype a data analytics tool that ingests GPS telemetry data from commercial LEO constellations and uses it to paint a picture of RF hazards on the ground, identifying and characterizing the potential sources of that interference.
- “The ability to collect, process and extract insights from satellite telemetry data has increased substantially thanks to the increase in commercial proliferated low Earth orbit satellite constellations,” she said. The prototype system “will automate manual data exploitation techniques to deliver finished user-friendly products at low latencies.”
- The idea is to “leverage data already generated by existing spacecraft global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) sensors to extract a better understanding of the electromagnetic operational environment,” said Stricklan.
- The contract was a competitive opportunity the Space Enterprise Consortium launched in June 2021.
• January 5, 2022: Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson in a video released Jan. 5 called on the private sector to help clean up space junk. 13)
- “We need your help,” said Thompson in a video posted by the Space Force’s technology arm known as SpaceWERX.
- SpaceWERX is running a program called Orbital Prime that is soliciting proposals from private businesses and academic institutions on technologies that could be used to deal with the growing problem of space debris.
- The first Space Prime effort, Orbital Prime will invigorate the On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) market using Active Debris Remediation (ADR) as a use case for the foundational technologies. As congestion and debris threaten the long-term sustainability of the space domain, Orbital Prime will transition agile, affordable, and accelerated OSAM space capabilities to build the foundation for space logistics while preserving the global commons. On-orbit capability will be demonstrated on an accelerated timeline in two to four years.
- Proposals for the first phase of Orbital Prime are due Feb. 17.
Figure 8: “Our goal through Orbital Prime is to partner with innovative minds in industry, academia and research institutions to advance and apply state of the art technology and operating concepts in the areas of debris mitigation and removal,” said Thompson (video credit: USSF)
- The long-term goal is to conduct an in-space demonstration of debris removal technologies less than three years from now. The project is being funded under the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. Companies have to team up with academic or nonprofit institutions. Larger companies can participate but as subcontractors to a small business.
- Teams can win Phase 1 awards of $250,000 and Phase 2 awards of $1.5 million. If any are selected for an in-space demonstration, the government will fund a share of the cost.
- Thompson said the Space Force wants to see these technologies succeed so it can buy debris-removal services from the private sector.
- “Our vision in this partnership is to aggressively explore those capabilities today, in the hope that we and others can purchase them as a service in the future,” he said.
- The growth of space debris is a mounting challenge for governments and the commercial space sector as these objects can collide with satellites or space stations inhabited by humans. The Space Force currently tracks more than 40,000 objects in space, only about 5,000 of which are active satellites. The approximately 35,000 debris objects tracked are about the size of a fist or larger, Thompson said. But according to conservative estimates, “there are at least 10 times as many smaller objects in orbit that we cannot reliably track. And yet those smaller bits of debris pose as much or greater risk to our satellites as the larger pieces.”
- This congestion endangers the long term sustainability of the space domain, said Thompson. “It demands action and provides an opportunity for partnership in the search for innovative solutions to recycle, reuse or remove these objects.”
• December 20, 2021: The U.S. Space Force awarded Boeing a $329.3 million contract to support operations of Global Positioning System satellites for the next 10 years. 14)
Figure 9: The Global Positioning System IIF satellite, developed and built by Boeing, is the next generation of GPS space vehicle (image credit:U.S. Air Force graphic)
- The contract, announced Dec. 20, is for on-orbit support of GPS 2F satellites, manufactured by Boeing.
- The current constellation of 31 operational GPS satellites includes 12 of the 2F model.
- The GPS 2F satellites were launched between 2010 and 2016 to replace GPS 2A satellites that were launched between 1990 and 1997. In 2010 the U.S. Air Force selected Lockheed Martin to produce the newest generation called GPS 3.
- GPS 2F satellites were designed to operate for 12 years, but like many U.S. military and commercial satellites, they are projected to stay in service for years beyond their expected design lives.
• December 18, 2021: On the second anniversary of the U.S. Space Force, officials are calling attention to its accomplishments as well as looming challenges posed by Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons. 15)
Figure 10: Space Force officials held a ceremony at the Pentagon Dec. 17, 2021, for the service’s two-year anniversary. From left to right: Spc2 Aiden Dennis, representing the youngest member of the Space Force, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, and senior enlisted leader Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman (image credit: U.S. Space Force)
- The Space Force, an independent military service under the Department of the Air Force, was signed it into law Dec. 20, 2019. Over the past two years its ranks have grown to more than 6,500 uniformed members known as guardians, and about an equal number of civilian employees charged with operating and protecting the U.S. military’s satellites and supporting systems.
- Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno, director of the Space Force staff, recalled that the service got off to a rough start as the public did not understand why a military branch for space was needed. “I think at first it was a little tough to realize the American people thought we were a joke ... thank you Netflix,” Armagno said at a Washington Space Business Roundtable event Dec. 15.
- “We decided we had to keep educating and keep talking about Space Force, what it provides, where we’re going in the future, and why it’s so important,” she said.
- Armagno suggested that a drumbeat of news reports about China’s technological advances in space and hypersonic missiles, and Russia’s anti-satellite missile test last month provided clear illustrations of the role that space plays in national security. “There’s a lot of strategic competition in space and I think Americans are seeing it,” she said.
- “We still have more educating to do, and we definitely want to bring Americans in and explain the threats we’re seeing,” Armagno added. “I don’t think we are the subject of the jokes from year one. So I think we’re making some pretty good progress.”
- Undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said a top priority for the Space Force is to “understand what we need to do to protect our satellites and other capabilities in space that support all the other services.”
- “Our competitors have done their homework and they know just how reliant we are on space as a nation. They know space enables the economic and military power of our nation,” she said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event Dec. 16.
- Ortiz Jones noted that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall wants to see the Space Force “get space right” as far as acquisitions of new systems are concerned. “To sustain our advantages we’ve got to move faster than our competitors,” she said.
- Being a small organization — the Space Force is about one-tenth the size of the next smallest branch of the armed forces, the U.S. Marine Corps — can be an advantage in the Pentagon, said Ortiz Jones. “The Space Forces is new, and the bureaucracy isn’t fully baked into every process, luckily, and we’ll work hard to make sure it doesn’t get baked in.”
Looking to shift the culture
- The main jobs performed by the Space Force — operating satellites, tracking objects in space and managing the nation’s space launch ranges — for decades were done by the U.S. Air Force.
- The nature of those tasks has not changed but operations are now more “mission focused,” said Col. Miguel Cruz, commander of Delta 4, the Space Force unit that operates missile-warning satellites.
- “By virtue of being a little bit flatter, it’s much faster to get to decision making,” Cruz said Dec. 17 at a Mitchell Institute forum. Under the previous Air Force structure, any organizational or process change would have had to go through several echelons of decision making, said Cruz.
- Another benefit of being a separate service is cultural, “more of an identity thing,” said Cruz. “The space operator now sees himself and herself not only as having his or her own service, but the fact that they are now called upon to be warfighters. Not merely space operators providing a service but actually warfighters that defend the nation against strategic attack or theater missile attack as is in my case.”
- Col. Matthew Holston, commander of Delta 8, the unit that operates communications and PNT (positioning, navigation and timing) satellites, said the biggest shift has been the “focus on the threat.” He said he had not seen that during his more than 20 years of service in the Air Force.
- “We made a deliberate decision to change our operations support squadrons to combat training squadrons, and focus not just on what we do on a day to day basis, but focus on what does it truly mean to do navigation warfare to protect and defend that PNT signal?” Holston said.
- The Space Force has to operate in a “contested environment,” he said. “And that means recognizing that space combat power is a critical enabler for our nation. And our adversaries are trying to take that away.”
- Col. Robert Long, commander of Space Launch Delta 30, the unit that manages West Coast launch operations, pointed out that the Space Force, despite its autonomy, remains hugely dependent on its parent service. “We can’t do our job without the Air Force and airmen.”
Figure 11: The Space Systems Command in Los Angeles procures satellites, launch services and other technologies for the U.S. Space Force (image credit: @USSF_SSC)
- Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told SpaceNews Dec. 2 that a candidate to fill the position of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration has been selected and is currently being vetted by the White House. The nominee also has to be confirmed by the Senate.
- Kendall said having a senior leader in charge of military space acquisitions is hugely important as the Space Force looks to modernize its satellites and other systems developed decades ago, and to acquire advanced technologies needed to compete with China and Russia.
- One of the first assignments for the new assistant secretary will be to oversee organizational changes in the Space Force procurement enterprise, Kendall said.
- “We’ll be looking at what is the best way to restructure the organization,” he said.
- The transfer of the Space Development Agency to the Space Force is one change on the horizon. SDA is currently a Defense Department agency but will move to the Space Force in fall 2022. Kendall said he has been working on the details of the transfer with undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Heidi Shyu, who currently oversees the SDA.
- Also on the agenda is a restructuring of the Space Systems Command, the organization that develops and procures satellites, buys space launch services and other technologies for the U.S. military.
- A massive agency with a $9 billion annual budget and a workforce of about 6,300 military, civilian personnel and contractors, the Space Systems Command (SSC) previously was known as the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The Space Force in August renamed it SSC and the Pentagon selected Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein to lead the command.
- The forthcoming restructuring would reverse changes made by former SMC commander Lt. Gen. John Thompson under an initiative known as SMC 2.0 that started in 2018 and was completed in late 2019.
- Thompson moved to realign SMC program offices — known as mission area directorates — that managed development and procurement of communications satellites, GPS, remote sensing satellites and other systems. Under SMC 2.0 those directorates were eliminated and projects were realigned under four organizations: A development corps overseeing programs in their early phases, a production corps, an enterprise corps (for launch services and product support) and an atlas corps (for workforce and talent management). Thompson argued that the previous mission directorates were operating in isolation and that SMC would benefit from a more horizontal structure that facilitated technology sharing and collaboration.
- Kendall said the current structure is now being revisited.
- “Separating organizationally the development phase from the production phase, I don’t think that’s the right way to structure an acquisition organization,” said Kendall. “I think all phases of the life cycle need to be under a single manager. So we’re looking at reorienting to that kind of a structure.”
- Kendall said he and Guetlein have discussed a reorganization of SSC but many decisions have not yet been finalized.
- With mission-focused program offices, SSC would have separate program executives managing communications satellites, GPS, space sensors and launch services, for example. The Space Development Agency could conceivably be part of SSC and operate as a separate program executive office. SDA is building a network of interconnected commercial satellites in low Earth orbit to transmit data, provide communications, navigation and other services.
• December 3, 2021: Space industry startups focused on satellite propulsion, in-orbit manufacturing and debris tracking won prize money from a business accelerator funded by the U.S. Space Force. 17)
- The accelerator known as Hyperspace Challenge, run by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Space Force’s SpaceWERX (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio) program, announced Dec. 2 that Varda Space Industries, SCOUT and Neutron Star Systems received $25,000 (first place), $15,000 (second place), and $10,000 (third place), respectively.
- In addition to prize money, the companies get access to government mentors and insight on future contract opportunities. Thirteen startups competed for the 2021 awards.
- Varda Space Industries, founded in 2020, earlier this year raised $42 million Series A funding to develop a manufacturing facility to make products in space that can be brought back to Earth. The Space Force is interested in the company’s payload capsules for cargo delivery from space.
- SCOUT, a two-year old startup, developed a space-based optical sensor and payload system for collision avoidance and in-space object detection.
- Neutron Star Systems, from Cologne, Germany, is developing a superconductor-based electric propulsion system as a lower cost alternative to other forms of electric propulsion currently used for satellites.
- The Hyperspace accelerator also selected three universities: Stevens Institute of Technology, for its artificial intelligence technology; SUNY Polytechnic Institute, for neural networks that could help track satellite debris; and Texas State University, for its research on the effects of vibration during micro-gravity production of heavy-metal fluoride glass.
• November 17, 2021: U.S. Space Force officials Nov. 17 condemned Russia’s missile strike that destroyed a defunct satellite in low Earth orbit. The anti-satellite missile test, these officials said, sends an ominous message that Russia is intent on advancing its arsenal of space weapons. 18)
- Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of U.S. Space Command, said Russia conducted similar tests before the Nov. 15 event, including one in December 2020, that drew a statement of concern from Space Command. That test, however, didn’t intercept a satellite but this latest one did.
Figure 12: Numerica and Slingshot Aerospace produced these images of the resulting debris from the Russian missile that blew up Cosmos 1408 (image credit: Numerica, Slingshot)
- “So they’re continuing to develop counterspace capabilities, and continuing to show a disregard for the sustainability of space,” Shaw said at the ASCEND conference (8-17 November 2021) organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
- Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno, director of staff of the U.S. Space Force, said the Russians “are demonstrating that they can destroy a satellite in low Earth orbit. And if they can destroy a Russian satellite, you can bet that they can destroy an American satellite, a military or commercial satellite.”
- Shaw said U.S. Space Command analysts are still “characterizing this event” and the current estimate that the broken satellite created 1,500 debris objects is still evolving. “We expect the debris will grow over time. The debris cloud will begin to disperse as the various pieces get subjected to their own atmospheric drag and other influences.”
- This large cloud of debris “will become a threat that we will have to deal with,” said Shaw. “It’s going to cause a lot of problems for any spacefaring nation in low Earth orbit for years.”
- Shaw noted that just a week ago the International Space Station had to maneuver to avoid a potential collision with a piece of debris from the Chinese 2007 ASAT test. That anti-satellite missile strike occurred at a much higher orbit than either this latest Russian intercept or where the ISS is today, which suggests the consequences of the Nov. 15 test could be felt even more dramatically.
- “Here we go again,” said Shaw. “Now we’ve got an entire new event that we’re going to have to characterize … The same way many of us have been looking back at 2007 as sort of a an event that was of considerable concern to us in the space domain, now we have 2021 to look at in the same way. And we’ll be talking about it for years.”
- Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, Space Force director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, agreed with Shaw that the recent ASAT test is “a continuation of a program of counterspace capabilities that both China and Russia are intending to put either on orbit or terrestrially to take out our capabilities.”
- This test also is part of a deterrence strategy, she said. Russia is showing its intent to “degrade our capabilities at some point or to deter us from using our space capabilities.”
• November 15, 2021: U.S. military officials and analysts have warned that China and Russia are building an arsenal of weapons designed to interfere with space-based capabilities of the United States. 19)
- The United States meanwhile is building its own capabilities to counter enemies’ space assets. Most of those systems are classified but the Space Force has made public its plans to deploy advanced electronic jammers to disrupt enemies’ satellite communications signals.
- The Space Force’s satellite jammer, called Counter-Communications Systems (CCS) Block 10.2, was developed by L3Harris and was declared operational in March 2020. The company won a $125 million contract last month to produce 16 CCS 10.2 units by 2025 for use at U.S. military bases stateside and for overseas deployments.
- Ed Zoiss, president of L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems, said the CSS allows the military to “dominate the electromagnetic spectrum.”
- “Denying our enemies the ability to use their space assets protects U.S. warfighter operations,” Zoiss said Nov. 15 in a news release about the company’s recent contract.
- Praveen Kurian, senior director and general manager of L3Harris’ space superiority division, said the jamming effects of the CCS are reversible, meaning that they do not cause permanent damage. It was designed to cause temporary disruption of satellite communications signals.
- The company is working under a contract valued at $284 million to date to develop the CCS Block 10.3 upgrade named “Meadowlands” which is expected to finish development in 2022. L3Harris will build 26 Meadowlands systems.
- The upgraded jammer passed a critical design review, Kurian told SpaceNews. “We’re ready to actually begin production of the hardware.”
- The biggest changes in the new system is the automation in the software and the ability to conduct operations remotely, he said. “It’s a pretty significant improvement.”
Figure 13: Satellite antennas used in the Counter Communications System 10.2 electronic jammer developed by L3Harris under contract to the U.S. Space Force (image credit: L3Harris)
• November 11, 2021: The U.S. Space Force has ordered three GPS 3F satellites from Lockheed Martin for $737 million. 20)
- The Space Force on Oct. 22 exercised an option to purchase the satellites under a previously awarded contract, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson told SpaceNews Nov. 11.
- This is the third contract option awarded to Lockheed Martin under a 2018 agreement worth $7.2 billion for up to 22 satellites The first was a $1.3 billion order in September 2018 for two GPS 3Fs (space vehicles 11 and 12) and the second in October 2020 was a $511 million contract option for two satellites (space vehicles 13 and 14).
Figure 14: GPS 3F satellite artist rendering (image credit: Lockheed Martin)
- The new contract option is for GPS 3F space vehicles 15, 16 and 17. GPS 3F is the newest version of the U.S. satellites that provide global positioning, navigation and timing services.
- Lockheed Martin in 2008 won a contract to produce 10 GPS 3 satellites and the company is about to complete the final one as it transitions to the new GPS 3F version.
- Five GPS 3s (space vehicles 1 through 5) have been launched to date. Three fully assembled satellites are in storage waiting to be launched and the final two are still in testing.
- According to the Space Force, GPS 3F satellites will have more advanced anti-jamming capabilities, an upgraded nuclear detection detonation system payload, an improved search and rescue payload, and a laser retroreflector array that provides greater geolocation accuracy.
- Lockheed Martin said the GPS 3F satellites, starting with space vehicle 13, will be built on the company’s new LM2100 bus that has new cybersecurity features and more powerful electronics. This bus can be outfitted with the company’s Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN) to enable satellites to be refueled and serviced on orbit.
• November 11, 2021: Early education about the value created by space technology should be a national priority, the top enlisted leader of the U.S. Space Force said Nov. 11. 21)
- That is why it might be a good idea to have the secretary of education on the National Space Council, said Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman during a live webcast interview with Jamie Morin, executive director of the Aerospace Corp. Center for Space Policy and Strategy.
- The most talented people find their passion very early in life, so more should be done to attract high achievers to the field of space, Towberman said.
Figure 15: Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, U.S. Space Force senior enlisted advisor (image credit: U.S. Air Force)
- “Maybe this is Space Council business,” he said. “How do we have a holistic conversation about what should the ‘brand of space’ and what are we doing in elementary schools to build that passion?”
- Towberman has become a brand ambassador of sorts for the U.S. Space Force, which has made talent recruiting a priority due to the highly technical nature of the work its members do.
- The problem is that a lot of the messaging about space careers focuses on the science and technology requirements without emphasizing the benefits and possibilities that lie ahead as technology advances, he said. “The STEM brand isn’t resonating with all the talented people.”
- Satellites in space enable important applications that benefit life on Earth — from agriculture to navigation, environmental monitoring and mass communications. But that aspect of space as a value creator is not emphasized, said Towberman.
- “What are we doing in elementary schools to build that passion to get someone to look at the stars when they’re five years old and go, ‘that’s what I want to do,’” he said.
- A point of comparison is medicine, which also is a STEM field. “And yet, it’s not seen as a STEM field, The brand of medicine is a brand of caring, it’s a brand of service. And because of that, talented young people are attracted to a career in medicine but might not be attracted to a career working for a ‘STEM’ company,” Towberman said.
- One way to attract young people is to convey the message that they can “serve the world by being in space. It’s not just about science and technology. It’s about the stuff that’s enabled by that science and technology .... So I think this is an important conversation.”
• November 4, 2021: The U.S. Space Force is kicking off a new initiative to fund commercially developed technologies for orbital operations.22)
- The program known as “Orbital Prime” will focus on the emerging market sector known as OSAM (On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing). This includes a broad range of technologies to repair and refuel existing satellites, remove orbital debris and create new capabilities in space.
- Orbital Prime is run by SpaceWERX, the space-focused arm of the Air Force technology incubator AFWERX. In 2020 AFWERX sponsored Agility Prime, a project to advance the market for electric-powered pilotless aircraft that take off and land vertically. Orbital Prime will be a similar effort to spur government and private investment in OSAM technologies.
Figure 16: Orbital Prime will focus on the emerging market sector known as OSAM (image credit: USSF)
- The plan is to award multiple Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contracts. To compete for Orbital Prime awards, businesses have to partner with academic and nonprofit institutions. Teams can win up to $250,000 in the first round of contracts and up to $1 million in the second round. Successful projects will be eligible for much larger “strategic financing” awards that require companies to secure matching funds from private investors. Orbital Prime winners also will get non-monetary assists such as access to testing ranges and mentoring on regulatory and contracting processes.
- Orbital Prime Phase 1 contracts could be awarded in early 2022. The goal is to launch an in-space demonstration within three years, Lt. Col. Brian Holt, co-lead of AFWERX Space Prime, told SpaceNews.
- Gabe Mounce, deputy director of SpaceWERX, said the entire project could be worth as much as $100 million although it has yet to be determined how much of that will be funded by the government and how much by the private sector.
- Mounce said Orbital Prime is intended to help “prime the pump, if you will, on a nascent market in national security space and signal to the industry what direction the government wants to go in.”
DoD investment ‘long overdue’
- Space industry investors welcome initiatives like Orbital Prime, said Meagan Crawford, co-founder and managing partner of the venture capital firm SpaceFund.
- The government as a market driver in the OSAM sector is “something that’s been talked about for a long time in this industry,” Crawford said. With Orbital Prime, the Space Force is “finally planting a flag” and putting in real money.
- Among the startups that will be competing for Orbital Prime contracts is Rogue Space Systems. CEO Jeromy Grimmett said the company is working on a CubeSat designed to perform in-orbit inspections of other satellites or debris objects.
- A Space Force program focused on orbital capabilities is “long overdue,” said Grimmett, as the United States is behind other countries in developing technologies to de-orbit satellites and clean up debris.
- “I think SpaceWERX is going to provide a great pathway to help us advance technologies and start getting ahead and leading the world in these capabilities,” Grimmett said. “The market, I really believe, is going to drive some pretty interesting ideas.”
- Even though a $250,000 SBIR award is not a large sum, “it’s a start,” he said. “A lot of small companies like us, we need the signal. We need the endorsement. And then the private capital is eventually going to take over.”
- A company that wins a Phase 1 award, after a performance period of 90 to 120 days can compete for Phase 2 awards of $1 million. The big prize is strategic financing, or STRATFI, which can reach $30 million when combined with private matching investments.
- “That is not going to build a fleet, but it will definitely get you going in the right direction,” said Grimmett.
- It’s not just technology that is needed to conduct orbital operations, he said. “You also need a strategy” and a plan for the deployment of spacecraft. In space, just like on Earth, “it’s all about location, location, location.”
• November 2, 2021: NASA’s chief economist Alexander MacDonald said aggressive competition for space agency contracts is “one of the most exciting things that we’re seeing.” 23)
- Speaking Nov. 2 on a TechCrunch online panel discussion, MacDonald said competitive forces in the industry are going to help drive down the cost of “core elements of human space exploration.”
- Recent announcements that two new industry teams are jumping into the race to develop commercial stations to succeed the International Space Station are “very exciting from a market dynamics perspective,” MacDonald said.
Figure 17: The proposed Orbital Reef station can be expanded over time by adding more modules, but initially will be about one-third the size depicted here (image credit: Blue Origin)
- Last month Nanoracks announced it is working with Lockheed Martin on a commercial space station concept called Starlab. Blue Origin, Boeing, Redwire and Sierra Space are teaming on a commercial space station called Orbital Reef. Axiom Space won a NASA contract to develop a commercial module that will be attached to the ISS.
- Before this current surge of commercial space ventures, MacDonald recalled that the only proposal for a private space station dates back to the early 1980s when former NASA engineer Maxime Faget designed an industrial space facility concept that never came to fruition.
- Having a diversity of concepts from commercial companies is “incredibly important in human spaceflight,” he said. It should not be a rivalry between private or government-developed ideas, MacDonald added. “It’s about having a multiplicity of cultures … And of course, a multiplicity of cultures also means that there’s going to be different approaches to funding, which I think we’re also going to need.”
- “Commercial space is already playing a massive role in the delivery of NASA missions” and more partnerships will be pursued, he said. “NASA has really been relying on commercial services for decades. And what we’re now doing is expanding it to new areas.”
- One key reason for that is “we found the commercial capabilities are able to move at speeds, while the government programs maybe not always can,” said MacDonald.
- NASA uses private-sector services for launch, commercial cargo, commercial crew and “the next set of opportunities are going to be around commercial delivery of lunar payloads, commercial lunar landers for humans and obviously Commercial LEO Destinations” for commercial space stations, he said.
Space Force eyeing commercial services
- The Defense Department has not yet embraced partnerships with commercial industry the way NASA has, but the U.S. Space Force is looking to move in that direction, said Gen. David Thompson, Space Force vice chief of space operations.
- “What we have to do is understand some of those areas where we’ve trusted ourselves and only ourselves for decades,” he said at the TechCrunch forum. “We really do have to break the mold, think differently and understand and recognize we can incorporate more commercial services.”
- The Space Force’s best example of successful procurement of commercial services has been for satellite communications, said Thompson. “That’s been a successful model for us for decades” and the goal is to apply that approach to other types of space-based services, he said.
- The next area of interest to the Space Force is commercial services for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), he said. “The first thing we have to do is make sure that these capabilities fit into our architecture and we can we can fit them in seamlessly.”
- The Space Force wants to increase purchases of data collected by commercial satellites but the contracting arrangements are challenging, he said. “We have to be able to use the data, we have to be able to come to agreement with commercial companies on how we can use the data in the ways that we need to, but also protect them in terms of intellectual property and data rights.”
- “Oftentimes that’s a more significant challenge to be able to work through than anything else,” said Thompson. “The data rights, the data use and the intellectual property that comes with it is a challenge that can be solved. We just have to figure out how to.”
- Other commercial services the Space Force is considering buying: data relay and communications to interconnect all the joint forces, space situational awareness data, on-orbit logistics and resupply. “These are the sorts of services we ought to be able to build into our concepts of operations and apply in the future,” Thompson said. “It’s really a question of whether we can get out of our culture and use commercial services effectively. I think there’s a great future for commercial services and military space.”
• October 21, 2021: U.S. Space Force generals made headlines recently calling for the development of commercial services to clean up orbital debris. These statements convey a sense of urgency about the risk of collisions in space but the government’s indecision about how to manage this problem is delaying private investments and efforts to develop space cleanup businesses, says an industry analyst. 24)
- In a white paper published Oct. 21 by the consulting firm Avascent, analyst Nick Bolger points to comments made last month by Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, the vice commander of the Space Force’s Space Operations Command, who said “there is a use case for industry to go after” space debris removal as a business opportunity.
Figure 18: Rendering of space debris and defunct launcher stages in the geostationary ring (image credit: European Space Agency)
- From an industry perspective, however, the business case is not quite so clear, Bolger said. “Significant developments need to settle across industry in order to prove out this claim,” he said of Burt’s comments.
- With 16,000 satellites expected to be launched from 2021 to 2025, there is wide consensus that space sustainability and safe spaceflight operations are at risk. But actions to address the problem are being “challenged by shifting priorities of domestic and international governing agencies,” Bolger argues.
- “Varying opinions of regulatory stakeholders on how to approach debris removal prevents the U.S. government from taking action per se,” he said. A major obstacle is uncertainty about what agencies should take the lead in specific areas. A case in point is the transition of space traffic management responsibilities from the Defense Department to the Commerce Department which has for years been bogged down in studies and analysis.
- The Space Force says it wants to buy debris removal services, but if space traffic management moves to another agency it’s not clear who would make those buying decisions.
- “As far as a business case goes, I believe that investors may be wary of backing some of these nascent companies without a guarantee of future procurements by the government,” Bolger said.
- Another concern is the lack of standard metrics about collision hazards, he said. Agencies “self-regulate their space operations, often leveraging varying data sources and risk criteria to determine their need for collision avoidance maneuvers.”
- There’s been a number of close calls and near-miss collisions in recent years, and yet “governing bodies have shown little indication of taking the lead on deploying space debris removal and remediating technologies in the near future,” Bolger noted.
What could be done to incentivize industry
- Space debris removal technologies such as space tugs and junk collectors are now in the early phases of testing and development, Bolger said, but these companies still don’t have a broad range of customers.
- One way to incentivize commercial satellite operators to clean up debris is to change insurance requirements for satellites. The United States requires satellite operators to be insured for damages caused by third parties and for damage claims from the government. “Operators will seriously consider de-orbiting and cleanup services that allow them to avoid paying insurance over a longer time horizon,” said Bolger.
- The World Economic Forum’s Space Sustainability Rating system currently scores operators based on de-orbit plans, collision maneuvers and data sharing. The rating system is used on a voluntary basis by operators. Bolger said a U.S. federal adoption of a space sustainability rating system would likely lead to self-regulation of space activities.
- “The system would incentivize operators to incorporate debris remediating plans prior to entering orbit,” he said.
- Disjointed regulatory efforts create uncertainty for the industry, Bolger added. For example, the Federal Communications Commission is holding off on updating requirements for collision avoidance maneuvers for all satellites after NASA recommended constellations larger than 25 spacecraft and flying above 420 kilometers be required to have propulsion systems.
- “This has forced the FCC to seek additional public commentary before issuing another report and order,” he said.
- And there is still disagreement among agencies on whether the long-standing “25-year rule” should be changed. That rule says satellite and any debris from its launch should not remain on orbit for more than 25 years after its mission ends. Some have called for that timeline to be reduced, particularly in heavily congested areas in low Earth orbit.
• October 4, 2021: The U.S. Space Force has established an intelligence analysis group within the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. 25)
- A new organization called the Space Force Intelligence Activity is an interim step before the Space Force stands up a separate National Space Intelligence Center also at Wright Patterson, according to a memo signed Sept. 24 by Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback and Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien.
- Lauderback is the Space Force director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. O’Brien is the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations.
- A copy of the memo was obtained by SpaceNews.
Figure 19: Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass receives a briefing at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, June 3, 2021 (image credit: U.S. Air Force)
- The Space Force Intelligence Activity (SFIA) is an “interim operational construct to facilitate the process of the National Space Intelligence Center establishment,” the memo says.
- The SFIA will be staffed by teams of space and counterspace analysts who are now under the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) and will eventually transfer to the National Space Intelligence Center, according to the memo.
- NASIC is the Department of Defense’s primary source for intelligence on threats that affect air and space operations.
- The space and counterspace analysis teams include both military and civilian personnel. They are responsible for analyzing foreign space capabilities and the implications for U.S. space superiority.
- The Space Force does not yet have funding to build the National Space Intelligence Center. The Biden administration requested $20 million for the center in its 2022 budget proposal that has not yet been approved by Congress.
- Lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) had raised concerns about the Space Force creating a separate organization that would duplicate the work performed by NASIC. Space Force leaders have argued that it’s important to have an intelligence organization strictly focused on space threat analysis. According to sources, for years there has been an internal competition for resources within NASIC between air and space intelligence.
• October 2, 2021: The SWAC (Space Warfighting Analysis Center) briefing Oct. 27 is not about contract opportunities but rather a strategic-level discussion about capabilities the Space Force will need in the coming years. 26)
- When Space Force officials meet with defense contractors later this month they will share intelligence about threats to U.S. satellites at an unusual level of detail.
- “The people that are going to participate are going to probably get the largest trove of threat models that have ever been released, ever,” Andrew Cox, the director of the Space Warfighting Analysis Center, said Oct. 1 on a webcast hosted by National Security Space Association.
Figure 20: Rendering of a Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellite (image credit: Lockheed Martin)
- Cox leads the SWAC, a new Space Force organization focused on wargaming and analysis. It will host its first “business fair” Oct. 27 with representatives from the space and defense industry.
- The classified discussion will focus on early-warning satellites and how to make future systems more resistant to anti-satellite weapons. The Space Force also has to start planning the next generation of space sensors to defend the United States and allies against Chinese hypersonic weapons.
- This will not be a traditional briefing about contract opportunities, Cox said. It’s an attempt to bring the private sector into early deliberations on what capabilities the Space Force will need in the coming years.
- “I have never seen an instance where we’ve put this level of work into detailed threat models that industry will now have in their hands to help them understand what kind of threats and targets we need to worry about for the foreseeable future,” he said.
- The models the Space Force will share with contractors are based on “validated threat data” from DoD and intelligence agencies, said Cox. These models however don’t provide all the answers the Space Force needs, he said. “Some of those models often stop where the intelligence record ends. And we have to fill in the holes with good engineering judgment. So we’ll have a robust conversation about this.”
- “We’ll talk about where these models depart the record, and where we’re having to fill in the puzzle pieces with sound engineering judgment,” Cox said.
- Military briefings to industry typically are attended by business development executives but for this one the Space Force is encouraging companies to send strategists and technical experts.
- The chief of space operations of the Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond will kick off the briefing with his “strategic perspective,” Cox said. “I think he would like to see similarly strategic minded folks from these companies.”
- Why? “Because we’re going to be talking about what this industry actually needs to look like, how we engage with industry long before we have a requirement, long before we have a program put in place,” Cox said.
- Strategies that will inform industry investment portfolios “I think is the kind of conversation we hope to have,” he said.
- “We would also like to have people there that are technically sound in this particular mission area: system engineers, senior technical leads from your corporations, because we are going to geek out a little bit, and show you some of these detailed models that we’ve been working on,” Cox added. “I think it would be good to have folks there that can appreciate the level of information we plan to exchange.”
- Cox said at least 110 companies have registered to attend, a mix of traditional defense contractors and new space companies. The deadline to sign up is Oct. 12.
- “We wanted to reach out to a large segment of industry,” he said. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, some attendees will meet at a classified facility in Chantilly, Virginia, and others in Colorado Springs. Both will be connected via secure video-teleconferencing.
• September 25, 2021: Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance were selected to participate in technology development projects to advance rocket engine testing and launch vehicle upper stages, the U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command announced Sept. 24. 27)
- The awards made by the SpEC (Space Enterprise Consortium) are for prototypes that will be jointly funded by the government and the contractors under partnerships known as OTAs, or other transaction authority. The contracts were split between current national security launch providers SpaceX and ULA, and new entrants Blue Origin and Rocket Lab that might compete in 2024 for the next round of national security launch service contracts.
a) Blue Origin will receive $24.3 million for cryogenic fluid management for its New Glenn rocket’s second stage.
b) Rocket Lab gets $24.3 million for upper stage development of its future launch vehicle Neutron.
c) SpaceX gets $14.4 million for testing technologies for its next-generation Raptor engine: rapid throttling and restart testing; liquid methane specification development and testing; and combustion stability analysis and testing.
d) ULA gets $24.3 million for uplink command and control for Centaur 5, the upper stage of the company’s new rocket Vulcan Centaur.
- The SpEC consortium solicited proposals for these projects on May 11.
- “We are excited to partner with industry to advance transformational space access capabilities,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of Space Systems Command’s Launch Enterprise.
- The Raptor testing contract awarded to SpaceX was funded by a $15 million appropriation that Congress added to the 2021 defense budget for next-generation engine testing. “This prototype effort will advance state-of-the-art in rocket engines, including new technologies to enable space access and mobility,” the SpEC consortium said.
- The other three projects for upper stage technology are funded in fiscal year 2022. The Space Systems Command said the contracts will be awarded early next year pending congressional approval of the 2022 budget request.
- These are “orbital transfer prototype projects to improve space access capability for national security launch systems,” the SpEC said. “Anticipated benefits include reducing costs by allowing procurement of lower energy launch vehicle configurations, and improving mass-to-orbit capability” specially for trajectories beyond geosynchronous orbit.
• September 21, 2021: U.S. Army and Navy units that operate communications satellites next month will be realigned under the U.S. Space Force, chief of space operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said Sept. 21. 28)
- The transfers were approved earlier this year when the Pentagon submitted its budget request for fiscal year 2022. During a keynote speech at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference, Raymond provided additional details on the specific units being moved over.
- A total of 11 Army and four Navy organizations will transfer. These units employ 319 military and 259 civilian personnel. Army and Navy service members are not obligated to join the Space Force but can voluntarily transfer. Raymond said more applicants have applied for transfers than there are slots available.
- “These transfers will increase efficiency and improve the readiness” of satellite communications operations, Raymond said.
- Satellite-based communications functions performed by these units are closely aligned with corresponding units in the U.S. Space Force and regularly operate together, he said. “Transferring these units and functions to the Space Force enhances unity of effort and mission effectives in the satellite communications mission area.”
- Transitioning from the Army are two units that currently are part of the Army’s satellite operations brigade: The 53rd Signal Battalion and the SATCOM Directorate. The 53rd Signal Battalion is the only U.S. military unit that controls the payloads of the military’s Wideband Global Satcom and DSCS communication constellations. The Navy is transferring the units that operate the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) and Ultra-High Frequency Follow-on (UFO) satellites.
Army units transferring to Space Force:
- 53rd Signal Battalion Headquarters, Peterson Space Force Base, Co.
- 53rd Signal Battalion Detachment A, Fort Detrick, Md.
- 53rd Signal Battalion Detachment B, Fort Meade, Md.
- 53rd Signal Battalion Detachment C, Landstuhl, Germany
- 53rd Signal Battalion Detachment D, Wahiawa, Hawaii
- 53rd Signal Battalion Detachment E, Fort Buckner, Japan
- Combined Satcom Support Expert Office, Peterson Space Force Base, Co.
- Regional Satcom Support Center-East, MacDill Air Force Base, Fl.
- Regional Satcom Support Center-West, Peterson Space Force Base, Co.
- Regional Satcom Support Center-Europe, Stuttgart, Germany
- Regional Satcom Support Center-Pacific, Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii
Navy units transferring to Space Force:
- Navy Satellite Operations Center (NAVSOC), Point Mugu, Ca.
- NAVSOC Detachment A, Prospect Harbor, Maine
- NAVSOC Detachment C, Finegayan, Guam
- NAVSOC Detachment D, Schriever Space Force Base, Co.
• September 21, 2021: The U.S. Space Force has an acquisitions arm called the Space Systems Command. A separate Space Rapid Capabilities Office that procures classified systems reports to the chief of the Space Force. The Space Development Agency and the Missile Defense Agency also oversee space procurement programs. And many satellite programs are also run jointly with the National Reconnaissance Office, a U.S. intelligence agency. 29)
- Despite a medley of organizations that manage space procurements, the Space Force and the intelligence community have stood up a coordinating group to make sure there is “unity of effort,” Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of the Space Systems Command, said Sept. 21 during a panel discussion at the Air Force Association’s Air Space & Cyber conference at National Harbor, MD.
- The chief of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond has called on the service to move faster with the acquisition of new technologies to stay ahead of rivals like China.
Figure 21: Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of the Space Systems Command, speaks Sept. 21, 2021, during a panel discussion at the Air Force Association’s Air Space & Cyber conference (image credit: AFA livestream)
- “Our processes are archaic and our processes are slowing us down,” said Guetlein.
- The number of organizations “that all have a finger in the acquisition pot of space has actually grown in recent years, not gotten smaller,” he said. “And in order for us to get after the threat, to get the agility and the innovation that we need, we need unity of effort and that’s really what we’ve been trying to drive.”
- Guetlein said a “program integration council” chaired by Raymond and by NRO Director Chris Scolese brings together representatives from all the space buying agencies and the organizations that need the equipment — U.S. Space Command and Space Operations Command. That coordination “helps us get after the threat,” he said.
- Another change in the organization of space acquisition is coming in the near future when the Department of the Air Force nominates -— and the Senate confirms — an assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, who will be the civilian acquisition executive for space programs.
- Secretary Frank Kendall has said candidates are being vetted and a nomination could be announced soon.
- Brig. Gen. Steve Whitney is the military deputy at this new office. He said Congress directed the Air Force to stand up the space acquisition executive office by October 2022. Kendall announced last month that he has moved to create the space acquisition executive office, called SAF SQ, by merging a couple of existing acquisition units on the headquarter staff.
- “This is a demonstrating commitment that we not only want to do this, but we’re trying to get at it faster and that we’ll be ready when there is a nominee to be that service acquisition executive,” Whitney said.
- “The secretary gave us some very specific direction on what we are to do,” said Whitney. “He wants us to focus on the acquisition of systems and technical capabilities while divesting some of the traditional roles [that the space acquisitions office used to have] in international affairs and space policy,” he added.
- “We’re taking some basic system engineering principles to try and figure out what functions we should have: everything from science and technology to the architecture, to capability delivery to the overall integration. And so we’re going to kind of form an office it’s got three directorates that are centered around those pieces.”
• September 15, 2021: A Space Force general endorsed the development of commercial systems for removing space debris, saying they can address congestion in Earth orbit without the policy concerns a government-run alternative might have. 30)
- Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, vice commander of the Space Force’s Space Operations Command, told an audience of space traffic management experts that active debris removal is essential to address the growing population of objects in low Earth orbit that pose a threat to government and commercial satellites.
- “We need to pick up debris. We need trash trucks. We need things to go make debris go away,” she said in a keynote at the AMOS (Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies) Conference here Sept. 15. “I think there is a use case for industry to go after that as a service-based opportunity.”
Figure 22: Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt said a commercial orbital debris removal capability would be "very valuable" since it would avoid concerns that one developed by the military would also be used as a weapon (image credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust)
- Burt, who is also commander of the Combined Force Space Component Command of U.S. Space Command, said that concern was driven by the inability to do anything if there is a threat of a collision between two non-maneuverable objects, like debris. “Those are bad days,” she said, within nothing to do other than hope that the predicted conjunction passes without any new debris objects tracked.
- Later in her presentation, she emphasized that orbital debris removal was not only important, but also should be done by the private sector. “Absolutely there’s a business case for debris removal for industry,” she said.
- Orbital debris is a job for companies, she said, because a government-led effort would cause some to believe the technology would also used as a weapon to disable active satellites. “When you say the military is going to develop a capability to pick up trash or pick up debris, it’s automatically seen as dual use,” she said.
- A company, or consortium of companies, that attempted orbital debris removal would be “very valuable,” she concluded. “It is a growing discussion on the international stage as well. I think it will get solved in the next few years, but we definitely want to see more of that technology.”
- Several companies have expressed an interest in orbital debris removal, including projects to demonstrate technologies needed to capture and deorbit objects. However, they face other stumbling blocks, from uncertain regulatory regimes for removing debris to identifying who will pay for debris removal, and how much.
- Debris removal fits into a broader picture of space traffic management or, as she described it, space traffic awareness. The difference is that, unlike air traffic management, where there are clear authorities and regulations for directing aircraft, the Space Force has little ability to direct operational, or live, satellites to maneuver if it identifies a potential collision.
- “If that live object is a DOD capability, then absolutely I have the authority to tell them, ‘you need to move and here’s direction you’re moving,’” she said. “If that object is anything other than a U.S.-flagged Department of Defense asset, I am making them aware there is a collision, but it’s their choice what they do.”
- She supported efforts to transfer civil space traffic management to the Commerce Department. “We, as the Department of Defense, look forward to the Department of Commerce taking on this mission and standing up,” she said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder to help them to do that and to be successful.”
- Handing those responsibilities to Commerce Department, she argued, would better separate civil and military roles, allowing Space Command to focus on “battlespace awareness” including fighting a war that extended to space.
- “We will continue to do the space traffic awareness mission until we are told not to and the Department of Commerce is fully up and capable,” she said. “But we want them to be successful because we need to get out of that business because the threat is growing. It is critical that, to normalize this domain, we continue to work in that direction.”
• August 24, 2021: The U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC) recently declared the eighth GPS III satellite as “Available for Launch.” This significant accomplishment officially marks the third space vehicle within the GPS III program to be declared available for launch in the past three months. 31)
- GPS III SV06, SV07, and SV08 are now awaiting official call up for launch in Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility in Waterton, Colorado.
Figure 23: Photo of the three recently completed GPS III satellites at the Lockheed Martin Facility (image credit: USSF SSC)
- “SV06, SV07, and SV08 AFL milestones in just three months prove that GPS III production continues to benefit from efficiencies with each satellite delivery,” said Col. Edward Byrne, chief of SSC’s Space Production Corps’ Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division.
- The first of the three recently completed satellites, SV06, is scheduled to launch in 2022 and will join the operational constellation of 31 GPS satellites.
- GPS III satellites deliver enhanced performance and accuracy through a variety of improvements, including increased signal protection and improved accuracy. GPS III also expands the civilian L5 signal, dubbed the “safety-of-life” signal, currently broadcast by the 12 GPS IIF satellites, but not yet operational, and delivers a new L1C signal designed to grant interoperability to similar international space-based position, navigation and timing systems around the world. As a crucial technological foundation for internet, financial, transportation, and agricultural operations, GPS delivers the gold standard in positioning, navigation, and timing services supporting U.S. and allied operations worldwide.
- Space Systems Command, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the U.S. Space Force’s Center of Excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SSC’s portfolio includes space launch, global positioning systems, military satellite communications, a defense meteorological satellite control network, range systems, space-based infrared systems, and space domain awareness capabilities.
• August 24, 2021: The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency is all about lower costs and getting the best bang for its buck. So when it needed to procure launch services to deploy a batch of 28 satellites in late 2022, it sought competitive bids and SpaceX won the contract. 32)
- That decision did not go over well with the U.S. Space Force office that oversees the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program, which needs DoD to use its services to make the program cost competitive. United Launch Alliance and SpaceX are the NSSL Phase 2 launch providers and missions are split 60/40 between the two.
- The Space Development Agency (SDA) — which is building a large constellation of small satellites in low Earth orbit — last month announced that it will no longer procure launches commercially and will buy launch services through the NSSL program.
Figure 24: Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear speaks with reporters at the 36th Space Symposium (image credit: Sandra Erwin/ SpaceNews)
- SDA Director Derek Tournear said initially he did not want to use NSSL because it’s significantly more expensive than commercial launches. The NSSL customers pay for additional administrative cost, mission assurance and other markups.
- But after extensive negotiations, the Space Force agreed to remove some of those additional markups and gave SDA a better deal, Tournear said Aug. 24.
- During a news conference at the 36th Space Symposium, Tournear said SDA did get pushback for booking a commercial launch with SpaceX outside the NSSL program. He said SDA argued that there was a “significant difference” between commercial pricing and NSSL Phase 2 costs and that it made sense to save taxpayer money.
- In response, the NSSL program office under the Space Force’s Space Systems Command agreed to negotiate a better deal for SDA, Tournear said. “They worked very well with us and we worked closely [to identify] things that are included in those NSSL costs that don’t necessarily need to be included for our launch, and they were actually able to remove a lot of those.”
- Tournear said he could not provide specifics of what costs were taken out but said it amounted to “multiple tens of millions of dollars per launch” off what would be typically charged for NSSL launches. “They removed a lot of activities that we didn’t require.”
- With the reductions, the difference between what SDA would pay for commercial launches and for NSSL is “marginal,” said Tournear. There is a difference, but it’s justified because it helps NSSL book more rockets and get better pricing from providers. “Now the department has more rockets in total that is buying under NSSL, so they can use that to shift things around within that 60/40 split they’re bound to.”
- As a customer of the NSSL program, SDA will have to work with the rocket providers and integrators “to make sure that we can match the spacecraft vendors with the launch vehicles,” said Tournear. “That is something we can certainly do” but was hoping to not have to take on.
• August 13, 2021: The U.S. Space Force on Aug. 13 official renamed the SMC ( Space and Missile Systems Center) as the Space Systems Command (SSC). The new command will be based at SMC’s campus at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. It will oversee the development of next-generation technologies, the procurement of satellites and launch services. 33)
- At a ceremony on Friday, Space Systems Command’s first commander, Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, said SSC will play a central role in the future of the Space Force. “I am honored and humbled to be charged with the responsibility of leading Space Systems Command at this exciting time.” Guetlein said.
Figure 25: U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, right, accepts the Space Systems Command flag from U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond, left, during the SSC activation ceremony at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, Aug. 13, 2021 (photo credit: U.S. Space Force photo by Van Ha)
- “In 10 years, warfighting as we know it will have changed drastically and we must be postured and empowered to keep pace with this change,” he said. “We cannot let this be a nameplate change from SMC to SSC. We must be bold, and we must get after the threat.”
- SSC has a $9 billion annual budget and a workforce of about 6,300 military, civilian personnel and contractors.
- The standup of SSC is the latest redesignation of the storied Space and Missile Systems Center, first established as the Western Development Division in 1954, making it the oldest space organization in the U.S. military. In 1967 it was renamed the Space and Missiles Systems Organization and in 1992 the Space and Missile Systems Center. In 2001, it was transferred from Air Force Materiel Command to Air Force Space Command, becoming part of the U.S. Space Force at its formation in 2019.
- U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond presided over the ceremony.
- “As we unfurl the Space Systems Command flag and begin a new chapter in space history, let’s reflect on the parallels between past and present,” Raymond said. “The great team here at SMC has already been changing the culture and moving faster, so I know SSC will rise to the challenge and continue this trend.”
- “To sustain and build our relative advantage, we must outpace our competitors,” Raymond said. “This is the challenge for the new Space Systems Command. You can’t let our capabilities reach their expiration date. The clock is ticking and you must deliver on time.”
• July 28, 2021: The U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has selected ASTRA, LLC to develop and demonstrate an Electro-Optical / Infrared (EO/IR) LEO-based cloud characterization solution that supports U.S. warfighter operations. 34)
- Striving to bridge gaps and improve functionality of Space-Based Environmental Monitoring (SBEM) systems, USSF SMC sought a commercial prototype EO/IR Weather System (EWS) mission capable of characterizing global clouds in near real-time to support Department of Defense operations.
- "An industry leader in space science technology and research, ASTRA is proud to be chosen by the U.S. Space Force to provide our Rapid Revisit Optical Cloud Imager (RROCI) system to deliver near-real time cloud characterization data in support of the warfighter," says Bill Baker, ASTRA Sr. Vice President of Data Solutions.
- SMC selected ASTRA, in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, Science and Technology Corporation, Pumpkin Inc., and Atmospheric & Environmental Research (AER), for the first phase of the EWS mission to design, develop, and demonstrate its 8-channel RROCI prototype. ASTRA’s imager will utilize commercial off-the-shelf systems to produce cloud characterization, mitigate weather risk, provide theater weather, and comparison of payload outputs to existing satellite data from a 12U satellite that meets USSF mission requirements.
- “USSF SMC seeks an agile, cost-effective technology to provide timely, mission-critical information to the warfighter – ASTRA’s proposed prototype will achieve this,” explains Dr. Scott Jensen, the project’s principal investigator and ASTRA Sr. Vice President for Technology. “Our solution assures easy implementation and rapid refresh of new technology into the architecture as required, and will meet both government and commercial SBEM requirements.”
- ASTRA’s proposed solution will provide a cost-effective and agile demonstration mission, reducing risk and demonstrating readily available commercial technology that meets USSF’s required operational mission capabilities.
- ASTRA (Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates) LLC of Louisville, CO, was born out of the vision for applying fundamental space physics knowledge to address real-world problems. Founded in 2005, ASTRA is a leader in the “New Space” small satellite industry. We leverage our scientific and engineering expertise to develop unique solutions to address complex space physics disciplines, instrumentation, modeling capabilities, and data analytics; ASTRA turns science into data, data into knowledge.
• July 26, 2021: A set of guidelines issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for responsible space operations should be part of a wider conversation about how to maintain safety and security in space, a senior Pentagon official said July 26. 35)
Figure 26: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on July 24, 2021, began a seven-day trip to Asia to conducting bilateral meetings with senior officials 8image credit: DoD)
- Austin in a July 7 memo said DoD should operate in space “with due regard to others and in a professional manner.” The memo also listed five “tenets” of responsible behavior: Limit the generation of long-lived debris, avoid the creation of harmful interference, maintain safe separation and safe trajectory, communicate and make notifications about space activities.
- John Hill, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said these guidelines are only intended for DoD space operators but also are meant to contribute to a broader dialogue to encourage civilian, commercial and other organizations that do business in space to adopt a common set of rules.
- “This is something that’s very important to understand: the Department Defense has no regulatory authority, no oversight authority. That’s not our competence, it’s not our strength,” Hill said in an interview with SpaceNews.
- In response to Chinese and Russian advancements in anti-satellite weapons, leaders of the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command have called for the adoption of international norms of behavior to deter testing and deployment of such weapons.
- Hill said anti-satellite weapons developments are concerning but this is not an issue that can be handled like traditional arms control. The conversation has to be about voluntary adherence rather than rigid rules because of the complexity of space operations and the number of actors that have stakes in the space domain, said Hill.
- “The U.S. government’s view is that we should be pursuing voluntary, non-binding norms,” he said.
- “We would likely make more progress by engaging with other space operators, be they government, civil, military, commercial, universities, whatever field they come from,” said Hill. “We will make more progress through efforts to share views on what we think are the best practices and encourage each other to adopt those best practices.”
- International discussions on space security for years have been at a standstill in part because countries and agencies have focused on “what should we all agree that we should prohibit,” said Hill. “That type of ‘arms control’ approach can be unending before you reach agreement and meantime space operations will continue to proliferate.”
- With many more governments and commercial players now having access to space, he said, “We think that a voluntary, non-binding approach is simply more productive for all space operators”
- The United States along with other UN member states in May submitted comments for a report on “Reducing Space Threats Through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviors” that will be unveiled this fall during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
- This initiative is important, said Hill, but it’s not policy. “What the United States government submitted to the United Nations is a ‘thought piece,’ it’s not a binding policy document.”
- Austin’s memo directs U.S. Space Command to turn the five tenets into more specific guidance.
- A spokesperson for U.S. Space Command said the next step is to “define responsible military space behavior similar to what we seen in the air and sea domains.”
- Hill said Space Command will coordinate this effort with civilian and commercial space organizations. The National Space Policy issued by the Trump administration in 2020 says the private sector is “encouraged to continue defining responsible commercial behavior and develop the technology to ensure a sustainable space environment.”
- “We asked Space Command to think about what are more specific next level types of behaviors that we might want to incorporate in Department of Defense guidance,” said Hill. “They will of course, look at and probably interact with civil and commercial operators, and they will take ideas and suggestions and thoughts from those operators.”
- Hill said DoD welcomes feedback and further discussions on Austin’s memo. “It’s entirely unclassified. We posted it on the web and shared it with others because we like to be transparent about what we’re doing,” he said. “If others find this to be useful, they’re more than welcome to use it, but this is only guidance for the Department of Defense.”
- A caveat in Austin’s guidance is that the tenets should be followed “unless otherwise directed.”
- This means all bets would be off during a conflict if the United States came under attack. “Think of these tenets as the day-to day-practices,” said Hill. “Now of course we’re a military organization,” he added. “The United States has an inherent right of self defense.”
• July 22, 2021: U.S. Space Force officials have begun discussions with the U.K. government about the possibility of building a deep-space radar site in the United Kingdom, a spokesman confirmed July 22. 36)
- The Space Force plans to develop a network of sensors known as the Deep Space Advanced Radar Concept (DARC) to track active satellites and debris beyond geostationary orbit 35,786 kilometers above the Earth.
- The DARC project was started by the U.S. Air Force in 2017. The Space Force describes it as a 24/7, all-weather ground-based radar system for space domain awareness.
- The Space Force recently issued a request for design concepts from contractors. Up to three radar sites could be built in the coming years. One would be in the United States and the other two in other parts of the world.
- Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston, head of the U.K. Royal Air Force, was recently in the United States for talks over the plans, the Guardian newspaper reported. He said the British were “very interested” in the project and in hosting a U.S. radar station.
- A U.S. Space Force spokesman told SpaceNews that no decision has yet been made.
- “We have recently started exploratory discussions with the U.K. to determine the potential collaboration opportunities with the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability,” said the spokesman.
- DARC will have three geographically separated sites around the world, “that will play a key role in moving towards a resilient space enterprise able to deter aggression,” he said. “The DARC program office is working site selection of all three sites in parallel, and has not finalized the location of any sites at this time.”
• July 7, 2021: The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) transferred Satellite Control Authority of the GPS III SV05 to the 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever (2 SOPS) Air Force Base on June 28. The fifth GPS III satellite — nicknamed Armstrong —was launched into space on June 17, 2021. 37)
- On June 29, GPS III SV05 received Operational Acceptance approval, marking the first GPS III SV to receive SCA handover and Operational Acceptance within 24 hours and decreasing the time from launch to on-orbit operational capability by 97 percent.
- In 2020, the GPS enterprise launched two GPS III SVs in the midst of a global pandemic. According to Los Angeles Air Force Base, home of SMC, the delivery time from launch to Operational Acceptance approval has continued to shrink, with innovation and teamwork across the GPS enterprise enhancing rapid identification and elimination of redundant on-orbit verification steps.
- Launch of SV05 was the first National Security Space Launch on a previously flown Falcon 9 booster, reusing the same booster that delivered GPS III SV04 to orbit in November 2020.
- GPS III SV05 joins a constellation of 31 operational satellites. “The inclusion of GPS III SV05 into the operational constellation marks another significant milestone for the enterprise with 24 M-code capable satellites,” said Colonel Heather J. Anderson, transition director.
- The Lockheed Martin-built GPS III SVs provide improved accuracy, advanced anti-jam capabilities, and increased resiliency for the GPS constellation and 4 billion users worldwide. GPS III SV05 will be set healthy to all global users in September, following the completion of on-orbit testing.
• June 25, 2021: The U.S. Space Force is eager to tap into the vibrant commercial market for space services enabled by increasingly capable small satellites and cheaper access to orbit. 38)
- Commercial services of particular interest to the military include imagery, analytics, weather data and broadband from low-Earth orbit constellations.
- “It’s really crucial that we figure out how to successfully integrate commercial data and services into our architectures and concepts of operations,” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, head of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the procurement arm of the Space Force.
- The Space Force already is a major consumer of commercial space launch services and geostationary satellite communications but it is now looking to “go bigger and bolder,” Thompson said, calling this a matter of national security.
- The military’s modernization plans increasingly depend on technologies funded by the private sector, Thompson noted. The Space Force is responsible for providing satellite-enabled capabilities to the entire Defense Department, and the acquisition of new space services will be a central piece of that effort.
- The next step will be to organize a new office focused on the procurement of commercial space services. This office will be part of the future Space Systems Command, said Gen. David Thompson, the Space Force vice chief of space operations.
- Space Systems Command will be established in Los Angeles later this year and will replace SMC. Thompson said the plan is to expand SMC’s existing commercial satellite communications services office so it can acquire other types of commercial capabilities.
- One of those services will be “tactical ISR,” short for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Tactical ISR would support military units in the field that currently don’t have direct access to satellite imagery. Field commanders want visual imagery but also radar, radio-frequency and other types of data collected by Earth observation satellites that capture images in short time intervals.
Change in Mindset
- Col. Timothy Sejba, program executive officer for space development at SMC, said procuring commercial space services is a departure from the traditional business model where the military dictates requirements and contractors are paid to build systems owned by the government.
- Buying commercial services means the Defense Department doesn’t have to finance the cost of building and operating a constellation, and simply acquires the data. This is a huge benefit, said Sejba, but there are risks that also have to be weighed.
- To be sure, the Pentagon does not want to become entirely dependent on commercial providers that may or may not be able to support the military during an armed conflict. Sejba said the Space Force will not outsource critical “no fail” capabilities like satellite-based missile warning or Global Positioning System navigation.
- The priority for SMC, he said, is to figure out a business model for how to access commercial services that would not replace, but supplement, government-owned capabilities.
- Tactical ISR, weather data and broadband from low-orbiting constellations are the low-hanging fruit, he said. “We know there is an extensive commercial industry base we have to tap into, and augment with government unique capabilities only when commercial can’t fulfill.”
- As plans move forward to stand up the new Space Systems Command, the most likely path to establish a commercial space services office will be to follow the model now used to acquire satellite communications.
- CSCO (Commercial Satellite Communications Office) that reports to SMC but is located near Washington, is viewed as a template for how other services could be acquired but there are still many details to be worked out, Sejba said.
- The satcom office buys $1 billion a year in commercial services and has built strong relationships with providers, he said. “We want to leverage that expertise.”
- As the Space Force looks to buy more commercial services, Sejba said, one of the challenges will be market research, as SMC is not familiar with many of the new space ventures entering the field. Further, the government has to figure out how to use its buying power to incentivize companies that want the Defense Department as a customer but also have to prioritize the needs of a broader market.
- Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit firm that provides technical services to DoD and other government agencies, plans to help SMC establish connections with space startups and new entrants, said Randy Kendall, vice president of launch and enterprise operations at Aerospace.
- Before the Space Force commits to buying critical services from a new commercial provider, it will want to know, for example, who is funding the company and whether their systems are adequately protected against cyber threats, Kendall said. Aerospace would help screen potential suppliers to make sure they are technically and financially sound.
- Aerospace also would facilitate SMC’s communications with venture investors to give them greater insight into the government’s wish lists so they can better target their investments, he said.
• June 15, 2021: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of the Air Force signed an agreement June 15 aimed at eliminating red tape while protecting public safety during commercial space activities at ranges operated by the U.S. Space Force. 39)
- The agreement recognizes common safety standards for FAA-licensed launch and reentry activities that occur on, originate from, or return to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. It also removes duplicative processes and approvals for the U.S. commercial space sector.
- “Assured access to space is vital to our national security,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth. “The launch licensing standards provided in the agreement will support a rapidly expanding commercial launch sector and strengthen our space industrial base, bolstering our economy and enhancing our security as a nation.”
- “Building a streamlined regulatory approach for commercial space activities at these federal launch sites is the right thing to do for public safety and U.S. competitiveness,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “This agreement will help the burgeoning U.S. commercial space industry grow even faster and continue to lead the world in safety and innovation.”
- Under the agreement, the FAA will accept the Department of the Air Force’s ground safety rules and other safety processes, analyses, and products as long as they satisfy FAA regulations. The Department of the Air Force will accept FAA licensing decisions and generally will not impose its own requirements for the flight portion of a launch or reentry.
- In addition, the two agencies will consult before responding to commercial space operator requests for relief from safety requirements and on the development of hazard areas. Both also will coordinate prior to publication of materials related to ground safety and launch or reentry activities and collaborate on environmental reviews to ensure the government’s response is prompt and consistent.
- The two ranges each have four FAA-licensed commercial space transportation companies authorized to conduct launch operations. In 2020, the FAA licensed 39 commercial space launches, the most in the agency’s history. Of those, 24 occurred at, and were supported by, these two U.S. Space Force ranges.
• June 13, 2021: The U. S. Space Force successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) on June 13 at 4:11 a.m. EDT, delivering a technology demonstration satellite to Low Earth Orbit. 40)
Figure 27: The USSF air-launched the TacRL-2 mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base on June 13, 2021 (image credit: USSF)
- Pegasus, the world’s first privately-developed commercial space launch vehicle, is an air-launched threestaged rocket carried aloft by Northrop Grumman’s specially modified “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft. Shortly after its release from Stargazer, at approximately 40,000 feet (~12 km) above the Pacific Ocean, Pegasus ignited its first stage, beginning its successful flight carrying TacRL-2 to its intended orbit.
- Tactically responsive launch, as a concept, seeks to introduce speed, agility, and flexibility into the launch enterprise in order to respond to dynamic changes in the space domain or an operational theater and insert or replace assets on orbit much faster than standard timelines to meet emerging combatant command requirements.
- “Today’s successful launch is a clear signal to our strategic competitors that we will not cede access to space,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. “When I challenged the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) about a year ago to demonstrate a responsive space capability, they accepted and delivered! The team presented an integrated Space Domain Awareness satellite ready for launch in record time; what normally would have required two to five years, took 11 months.
- “The space domain is defined by speed,” Raymond said. “And with this effort, we demonstrated the kind of speed it will take to win. We executed a ‘21-day call-up’ to get a satellite on orbit – pulling the payload, mating it with the rocket and integrating the combined package onto the aircraft. Agile, responsive capability development, combined with our ability to rapidly launch and insert capabilities into space where we want, when we want, will deny our competitors the perceived benefits of beginning a conflict in, or extending a conflict to, space.”
- The TacRL-2 mission was executed by the Small Launch and Targets Division within the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, in partnership with SMC’s Space Safari Office, and launched a satellite built and operated by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space Dynamics Laboratory.
- During a six-month standby period, a notice to launch was executed and the satellite launched several weeks later, exercising Concept of Operations, tactics, techniques and procedures required of a responsive launch.
- “I am very pleased with the success of this tactical launch demonstrating rapid and responsive technologies, and what it means for the continuous Space Force support to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief, Small Launch and Targets Division. “The team completed the launch vehicle design, build, integration and testing in only four months from contract award, and then executed the launch within a few weeks of call-up.”
- TacRL-2 was the first mission supported by SMC’s new Space Safari Program Office. Space Safari rapidly integrates mature technology and systems to quickly respond to specialized space needs.
- For TacRL-2, Space Safari successfully demonstrated their end-to-end approach to tactically responsive missions by acquiring and integrating the space vehicle, launch vehicle, payloads and ground elements in record time, as well as conducting on-orbit planning and operator training.
- This mission was a first-of-its-kind effort that has already identified several constraints and lessons learned. The USSF will use this information to improve upcoming TacRL missions with the Space Safari office planned to launch in 2022 and 2023. Tactically Responsive Launch is the first step toward the USSF acquiring a tactical space mobility and logistics capability to support combatant command’s future requirements for tactical spacepower.
• April 8, 2021: The U.S. Space Force on April 8 unveiled new details of its plan to establish a Space Systems Command in Los Angeles to oversee the development of next-generation technologies, and the procurement of satellites and launch services. 41)
- The SCC (Space Systems Command) will take over responsibilities currently performed by the Space and Missile Systems Center and by the Space Force launch wings in Florida and California that currently are not part of SMC. Altogether SSC will oversee a workforce of about 10,000 people.
- The Space Force will re-designate the Space and Missile Systems Center as SSC headquarters. SMC, based at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, California, has a $9 billion annual budget and a workforce of about 6,300 military, civilian personnel and contractors.
- About 4,000 people who work for the space launch units at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California will be reassigned to SSC. Both space launch wings currently report to the Space Force’s Space Operations Command.
- Officials said the new command is more than just a rebranding of the Space and Missile Systems Center. SSC will have broader responsibilities to coordinate space programs across the U.S. military.
- The proposal to stand up SSC is the result of a “deliberate year-long process to plan the Space Systems Command and specifically the organizational design,” the commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center Lt. Gen. John Thompson, told SpaceNews.
- SSC will be one of three Space Force field commands the service announced in June. The Space Operations Command was established in October and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A Space Training and Readiness Command is projected to open later this year.
- All three field commands are led by three-star generals who answer to Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations. The commands operate under the authority of the secretary of the Air Force, the civilian leader of the Space Force.
- Thompson said the Space Force is confident SSC can be stood up this summer but the exact timeline depends on when a three-star commander is nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate.
- The acquisition arm of the Space Force is a high priority of Raymond, who has called for the service to speed up the procurement of cutting-edge technology to stay ahead of adversaries like China and Russia. He also has argued that the Space Force has to be more agile in order to tap into the innovation coming out of the private sector.
- “Space Systems Command’s organizational structure was purpose-built to anticipate and be responsive to the challenges presented by a contested space domain,” Raymond told reporters April 8.
- Raymond said having a field command for acquisition will bring “unity of effort” in the development and acquisition of space capabilities for warfighters and “get people rolling in the right direction.”
Figure 28: The Space Force announced April 8. 2021, that the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) will be re-designated Space Systems Command (SSC), image credit: SMC
It’s not just a name change
- Thompson said the new command is not simply a re-labeling of existing activities done by SMC. As the organization in charge of space acquisitions, SSC will build on changes that SMC started two years ago in an effort known as SMC 2.0., he said. For example, SMC realigned program offices that operated in vertical organizations into a horizontal enterprise so there is more coordination and sharing of resources.
- “We really built a lot of momentum here on SMC 2.0 and we felt it was absolutely essential to be able to leverage that work going into the stand up of the Space Systems Command,” Thompson said.
- SMC has a three-star commander and a one-star deputy commander. The SSC also will have a three-star chief but a two-star deputy instead, who will have broader responsibilities for space launch activities.
- Thompson said the reorganization will not require adding more people as units are just being realigned. “This will be resource neutral,” he said.
- Two space procurement organizations that are not part of SMC — the Space Rapid Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency — will not be part of the SSC but will work closely with the new command, Thompson said.
- Under the plan, the commander of Space Systems Command has “limited administrative control” of Space RCO and SDA, he said.
- “What this means is that we will have a memorandum of understanding between the Space Systems Command commander and the leaders of those organizations for what support the Space Systems Command can provide to those organizations,” Thompson explained.
- “The commander of SSC is not going to get into the day-to-day nuts and bolts of what’s going on in the Space Development Agency or Space RCO portfolios,” said Thompson. The new command is “not going to “slow them down or inhibit their contractual awards in any way shape or form. We value the unique acquisition authorities and unique acquisition constructs of all of those organizations.”
- Thompson said he has already started discussion with the Space RCO on what administrative support it might need from SSC. The Space Development Agency by law has to move from the Defense Department to the Space Force by October 2022. How SSC would support SDA (Space Development Agency) has not yet been defined, said Thompson.
- The Space Development Agency, only in existence since 2019, has disrupted the military space business with plans to deploy a network of low-orbiting satellites by 2022 using commercial products from nontraditional suppliers. Thompson said what the agency has accomplished in “commercially enabled disruption is really remarkable. We like having them as teammates in this space acquisition ecosystem.”
- The SSC will have a “space systems architect” office overseeing next-generation designs and concepts, and also focus on outreach to the private sector.
- A new organization called SpaceWERX — formed recently under the Air Force technology accelerator AFWERX to work with space entrepreneurs and venture investors — will be under the SSC space systems architect.
- “They will continue to expand their mission, making our pitch day events, making our technology accelerators and our outreach to startups even more aggressive than we have in the past,” Thompson said.
- The SSC also will look at opportunities to buy “space as a service,” a catchphrase for the procurement of data or broadband connectivity from commercial providers.
- “I think you can envision a future where commercial services for space is expanded beyond the satellite communications enterprise and into things like weather or space domain awareness or even tactical ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],” Thompson said.
- As part of the proposed establishment of Space Systems Command, several units will be renamed or realigned:
a) The 61st Air Base Group at Los Angeles Air Force Base — which provides installation support — will become the Los Angeles Garrison.
b) The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, will be re-designated as Space Launch Delta 30.
c) The 45th Space Wing at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, will be re-designated as Space Launch Delta 45.
d) Air Force Research Laboratory units that perform space science and technology functions will be under the administrative control of SSC but will remain aligned to AFRL. These units include Space Vehicles Directorate, Space Electro-Optics Division, Rocket Propulsion Division, and the Space Systems Technology Division.
e) The Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems Division that manages ground-based radars and missile warning systems will transfer from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to SSC.
f) The Space Force Commercial Satellite Communications Office is currently under SMC and will remain in the SSC.
• March 16, 2021: Gen. David Thompson: “The more we can depend on commercial space for routine activities like transportation and debris removal, the more we can focus on national security." - Vice Chief of Space Operations of the U.S. Space Force Gen. David Thompson said it would make sense for the government to pay companies to clean up space junk if such services existed. 42)
- Orbital debris represents a risk to spacecraft and to safe operations in space, Thompson said March 16 in an interview with national security analyst John Nagl, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
- “I’ll pay by the ton if they can remove debris,” Thompson said, noting that there are no companies that can do that today.
- Nagl said someone in the audience asked if Thompson has heard of Astroscale, a Japan-based company with operations in Denver, Colorado, that plans to launch a debris-removal mission later this week.
Figure 29: Artist rendering of Astroscale's End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d), image credit: Astroscale)
- Thompson said he was not aware of the company. “I’m going to have to go Google that,” he said.
- Regardless of which companies in the space industry end up successfully providing space junk cleaning services, the Space Force would be a customer, Thompson said.
- “The more we can depend on commercial space for routine activities like transportation and debris removal, the more we can focus on national security,” he said.
- Space debris includes human-made objects like nonfunctional spacecraft and abandoned launch vehicle stages, and fragments from the breakup of rocket bodies and spacecraft.
- The European Space Agency estimates there are 3,600 working satellites in orbit and 28,200 debris objects. More than 10,000 satellites are scheduled to launch to low Earth orbit over the next decade.
- Astroscale on Saturday will fly the first commercial mission to demonstrate space debris docking and removal technologies. The company will launch a satellite called End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d) on a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
- The ELSA-d spacecraft has a a servicer and a client satellite that will be launched together. The servicer will use proximity rendezvous technologies to dock with the client satellite that will simulate a piece of debris.
2) ”United States Space Force History,” URL: https://www.spaceforce.mil
Sandra Erwin, ”Cape Canaveral, Patrick Air Force Base renamed as
Space Force bases,” SpaceNews, 9 December 2020, URL: https://spacenews.com/
4) ”United States Space Force,” Wikipedia, Accessed on 18 July 2021, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Space_Force
Sandra Erwin, ”SpaceX wins $102 million Air Force contract to
demonstrate technologies for point-to-point space
transportation,” SpaceNews, 19 January 2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force is creating its own culture but will
be ‘tightly coupled’ to the Air Force,” SpaceNews, 19
January 2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Federal budget stalemate having ‘ripple
effects’ on national security space missions,” SpaceNews,
18 January 2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force signals demand for commercial weather
data, but will the industry deliver?,” SpaceNews, 17 January
2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Pentagon warns hundreds of programs in limbo until
Congress passes full-year budget,” SpaceNews, 12 January 2022,
10) Jeff Foust, ”Launch ranges lack spare parts to support growing demand,” SpaceNews, 11 January 2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/launch-ranges-lack-spare-parts-to-support-growing-demand/
11) Sandra Erwin,”Space Force to take a fresh look at communications satellite needs,” SpaceNews, 9 January 2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/space-force-to-take-a-fresh-look-at-communications-satellite-needs/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force to use navigation data from LEO
constellations to detect electronic interference,” SpaceNews, 6
January 2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force wants to help fund technologies to
recycle, reuse or remove space debris,” SpaceNews, 5 January
2022, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Boeing wins $329 million contract to support
orbiting GPS satellites,” SpaceNews, 20 December 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force celebrates second anniversary as arms
race in space heats up,” SpaceNews, 18 December 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
16) Sandra Erwin, ”Changes ahead for Space Force procurement organizations,” SpaceNews, 3 December 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/change-is-coming-for-space-force-procurement-organizations/
17) Sandra Erwin, ”Three startups win prize money from U.S. Space Force accelerator,” SpaceNews, 3 December 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”U.S. officials: Anti-satellite test another sign
of Russia’s aggressive intentions in space,” SpaceNews, 17
November 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force satellite jammers would shut down
enemy communications temporarily,” SpaceNews, 15 November 2021,
Sandra Erwin, ”U.S. Space Force buys three new GPS satellites
from Lockheed Martin,” SpaceNews, 11 November 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force leader suggests education secretary
should be on the National Space Council,” SpaceNews, 11 November
2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force launches ‘Orbital Prime’
program to spur market for on-orbit services,” SpaceNews, 4
November 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”NASA, Space Force see growing opportunities to use
commercial space services,” SpaceNews, 2 November 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Analysis: Space Force endorsement not enough to
incentivize debris removal industry,” SpaceNews, 21 October 2021,
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force intelligence organization established
at Wright Patterson Air Force Base,” SpaceNews, 4 October 2021:
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force says upcoming meeting with industry
won’t be business as usual,” SpaceNews, 2 October 2021,
Sandra Erwin, ”Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, ULA win Space
Force contracts for rocket technology projects,” SpaceNews, 25
September 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force reveals which Army and Navy units are
moving to the space branch,” SpaceNews, 21 September 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force looking for ‘unity’ in
acquisitions despite a medley of agencies,” 21 September 2021,
Jeff Foust, ”Space Force backs development of commercial orbital
debris removal systems,” SpaceNews, 15 September 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
”Space Systems Command declares three GPS III space vehicles
“Available for Launch”,” SSC, 24 August 2021, URL: https://www.ssc.spaceforce.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2744342
Sandra Erwin, ”After negotiations, Space Development Agency was
able to get reduced pricing for national security launch,”
SpaceNews, 24 August 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
Sandra Erwin, ”End of an era: Space and Missile Systems Center is
now Space Systems Command,” SpaceNews, 13 August 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
34) ”U.S. Space Force SMC awards ASTRA EO/IR mission to support US warfighter,” ASTRA, 28 July 2021, URL: http://www.astraspace.net/post/
35) Sandra Erwin, ”DoD calls for broader dialogue on space rules of behavior,” SpaceNews, 26 July 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/dod-calls-for-broader-dialogue-on-space-rules-of-behavior/
Sandra Erwin, ”United Kingdom a potential site for future U.S.
space surveillance radar,” SpaceNews, 22 July 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
37) ”Control of GPS III SV05 transferred to 2 SOPS,” GPS World, 7 July 2021, URL: https://www.gpsworld.com/control-of-gps-iii-sv05-transferred-to-2-sops/
38) Sandra Erwin, ”Military building an appetite for commercial space services,” SpaceNews, 25 June 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/military-building-an-appetite-for-commercial-space-services/
39) ”FAA, Department of the Air Force sign commercial space agreement,” USSF News, 21 June 2021, URL: https://www.spaceforce.mil/News/Article/2664296/
40) ”U.S. Space Force successfully launches first tactically responsive launch mission,” USSF News, 13 June 2021, URL: https://www.spaceforce.mil/News/Article/2656082/
Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force to establish a new command to oversee
technology development and acquisition,” SpaceNews, 8 April 2021,
Erwin, ”U.S. Space Force would support commercial services to
remove orbital debris,” SpaceNews, 16 March 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).