Space Force grappling with aging infrastructure used to operate satellites

One of many challenges in utilizing business infrastructure is that the bottom management methods developed for army satellites can’t speak to business antennas

WASHINGTON — The bottom stations and monitoring antennas the U.S. army depends on to speak with its satellites — often called the Satellite tv for pc Management Community, or SCN — are many years previous and wanting the capability wanted to maintain up with the projected development in house actions.

There are seven SCN websites situated in the US and around the globe. About 15 giant dish antennas at these websites command greater than 190 army and authorities satellites in a number of orbits.

“Actually the Satellite tv for pc Management Community is a venerable system that’s been round for a very long time. So we have now a number of efforts ongoing to make sure that it’s prepared for the longer term that we now discover ourselves in,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of the U.S. House Operations Command, mentioned final month on the thirty sixth House Symposium.

The seven distant monitoring stations monitor the place of satellites and management spacecraft’s propulsion, thermal and different methods. As a result of the antennas can solely speak to at least one satellite tv for pc at a time, they’ve restricted capability to transmit, and obtain telemetry, monitoring and command information.

Whiting mentioned House Pressure operators are determining methods to not overtax the system. 

“We’ve labored with the squadrons that fly the satellites to ensure they’re solely coming to the community once they completely should,” mentioned Whiting. “There was a time after we had plenty of additional capability and you’ll simply go do additional ‘states of well being’ in your satellites,” he added. 

“We’re attempting to decrease the demand sign,” Whiting mentioned. “And we’re taking a look at new capabilities approaching, like phased array antennas which might give us a big enhance in capability, in addition to partnering with business and civil organizations to make use of their satellite tv for pc management networks.”

Fred Taylor, vp of house and cyber operations at Viasat Authorities Methods, mentioned time slots to make use of DoD satellite tv for pc monitoring stations are restricted. “It may be tough to get the aperture you want, once you want it in your mission. A missed contact can have dire penalties.”

Viasat is one in all a number of corporations that present business antennas and floor providers to complement the SCN. 

Purchase {hardware} or use business providers?

House Pressure officers mentioned the technique to modernize the SCN will embody a mixture of new {hardware} procurements and business providers augmentation.

The Pentagon’s Protection Innovation Unit and the House Methods Command over the previous two years have checked out choices to interchange the present parabolic antennas with fashionable digital phased arrays that may preserve contact with a number of satellites throughout completely different orbits and frequency bands.

After evaluating digital phased array antennas from a number of suppliers, the  House Pressure’s House Methods Command ended this system. A brand new procurement is now being run by the House Speedy Capabilities Workplace, a separate group that acquires categorised applied sciences. 

The House Pressure-run challenge to judge phased array antennas — often called MBMM, quick for multi-band multi-mission — wrapped up in February, Lt. Col. Louis Aldini, materiel chief for information transport on the House Methods Command’s Enterprise Corps, mentioned in an announcement to table4.

“Throughout the lifetime of the contract, MBMM demonstrated a phased array know-how for transmitting and receiving capabilities with stay DoD property,” mentioned Aldini. “Whereas SSC is now not pursuing MBMM, we’re persevering with to work in partnership with House RCO to share related data, data and classes realized from the unique MBMM effort.”

A spokesperson for the House RCO mentioned the company couldn’t touch upon its plans to modernize the satellite tv for pc management community. 

“We’ve got a associated procurement, however it’s not MBMM-reincarnated,” the spokesperson mentioned.

To complement capability on the SCN monitoring stations, the House Pressure can faucet into the Industrial Augmentation Companies (CAS) program.

The CAS program began in 2016 when the Air Pressure Analysis Laboratory awarded Braxton Science and Know-how Group a small enterprise innovation analysis contract to determine find out how to increase the army satellite tv for pc management community with business antennas. 

Braxton in 2019 received a $14 million contract to develop the CAS. The corporate in October 2020 was acquired by Parsons Corp.

Ed Baron, former president of Braxton who now runs the CAS program at Parsons, instructed table4 that the army shouldn’t be absolutely making the most of the business capability out there. 

“It’s laborious for satellite tv for pc operators to schedule time on business methods,” he mentioned. The SCN is overtaxed and in the meantime, the business trade is providing more and more decrease value providers, he added. 

Baron mentioned the MBMM effort to accumulate phased array antennas was “a superb program to be investing in, however tapping into business offers them entry to a whole lot of antennas.” Phased arrays every value tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars}, he mentioned, so the federal government ought to think about the financial advantages of utilizing business providers.

For the CAS program, Parsons works with business suppliers Intelsat, Viasat and Kongsberg Satellite tv for pc Companies.

One of many challenges in utilizing business infrastructure is that the bottom management methods developed for army satellites like GPS can’t speak to business antennas. Braxton developed software program to make business antennas suitable with authorities methods. “So any of their present floor methods can now speak to a business antenna and use a business antenna to speak to the spacecraft,” Baron mentioned.

Cultural resistance to business providers

Though Braxton solved the know-how hole, the House Pressure has been gradual to embrace business capabilities, Baron mentioned. There may be nonetheless an inner debate on whether or not CAS needs to be handled like a conventional acquisition “the place you are taking the system via full testing, or do you deal with it extra like a business functionality?”

By comparability, NASA and the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for many years have relied on business providers to command and management their satellites, mentioned Baron. Many of the floor methods the House Pressure makes use of as we speak weren’t designed to speak with business, “so the protocols don’t work.”

Parsons presently has “10 antennas arrange for them to make use of,” he mentioned. However demand has been gradual. “We’ve got three extra coming on-line so there might be 13 antennas. We haven’t scheduled a single minute of time for them in most likely a 12 months,” mentioned Baron. 

“Individuals ask for business capabilities,” he mentioned. “That is one which we’d wish to see them use extra, and we predict can save plenty of tax {dollars}.”

Craig Miller, president of Viasat Authorities Methods, mentioned Parsons’ software program helped to simplify the method of scheduling time on business antennas.

The difficulty is not only technical incompatibility between authorities and business methods, mentioned Miller. “The House Pressure’s largest problem is cultural,” he added. “It’s one thing senior leaders have publicly acknowledged and it stays an impediment to taking full benefit of business capabilities.”

Regardless of some efforts to leverage business capabilities “some resistance stays on account of outdated processes,” mentioned Miller.

One other business possibility is being provided by Atlas House Operation, an organization that operates a world community of 30 satellite tv for pc antennas and has a software program platform that automates the scheduling course of. 

“Our expertise working with the Air Pressure is that accessing business methods remains to be very handbook, and really gradual,” Atlas CEO Sean McDaniel mentioned. 

Atlas received a small enterprise innovation analysis contract from the Air Pressure Analysis Laboratory to show the software program platform, mentioned McDaniel. “We offer DoD entry to not solely business networks, ours included, but additionally authorities owned networks, civil antennas, in addition to DoD antennas via a unified entry platform.”

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