Tag Archive for: DoD

Air Force will review concerns expressed by the DoD IG and GAO about the basing selection process, before making the final decision.

A draft environmental assessment released July 13 by the Department of the Air Force said the proposed relocation of U.S. Space Command to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, would have “no significant impacts on the human or natural environment.”

The Air Force also conducted environmental assessments of five other locations considered “reasonable alternatives” — Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Port San Antonio, Texas; and Space Coast Spaceport, Florida. No environmental impacts were found at any of these other locations.  U.S. Space Command is currently based at Peterson. 

These reviews are required by the National Environmental Policy Act. After the release of the draft document there is a 30-day public comment period. The final environmental assessment will take into account comments received before making a final basing decision for the command’s headquarters. 

Space Command is responsible for providing satellite-based services to the U.S. military and for protecting those assets from foreign threats. 

The January 2021 selection of Redstone Arsenal as the preferred location for U.S. Space Command headquarters has been challenged by Colorado lawmakers. The decision process has been reviewed by the Department of Defense Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office.

Before the Secretary of the Air Force makes its final decision, the department said it will review concerns expressed by the DoD IG and GAO that the selection process did not adequately consider how long it would take for Space Command headquarters to reach “full operational capability” once it relocates.

Other issues that will be looked at before the final decision is made are the analysis criteria for “childcare, housing affordability and access to military/veteran support, to verify that identification of the preferred alternative was supported,” the Air Force said July 13.

Colorado lawmakers allege that former president Trump improperly influenced the decision and that the Air Force’s basing process did not properly take into account senior military officials’ concerns that the relocation would add years to Space Command efforts to reach full operational capacity as soon as possible. 

Approximately 1,450 personnel would be assigned to the proposed U.S. Space Command headquarters facility, Support contractors and other partners would be co-located, so the environment review assessed the impact of 1,800 personnel.

The proposed headquarters would consist of approximately 464,000 square feet of office space and approximately 402,000 square feet of vehicle parking.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said the Air Force draft review is a “welcomed result.”

“I look forward to the conclusion of the comment period and doing what I can to support Space Command as it makes Huntsville its new home,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Michael Bennet in a statement said Colorado is the “rightful home for U.S Space Command, especially given Peterson’s unique ability to reach full operational capability faster than other candidate bases. I will continue to work with  Coloradans to express ongoing concerns about the Trump Administration’s flawed decision.”

The Office of Space Commerce is expected to start developing an architecture for space traffic management, an initiative that has been bogged down by studies and lack of funding. That’s what Chirag Parikh, executive secretary of the National Space Council is expecting.

Further into that, he added: ‘What we’ve done is we’re putting our money where our mouth is.’

“We were very happy that we were able to get Richard DalBello in that position of leadership to run the Office of Space Commerce,” Parikh said July 13 at a conference on Capitol Hill hosted by the Future Space Leaders Foundation.

DalBello, a space industry veteran and former government official, was named to the top job at the Office of Space Commerce in late April. The post had been vacant since January 2021. 

“He’s working very closely with the Department of Defense right now, with the Space Force as well as U.S. Space Command, to be able to develop that linkage, to be able to transition that mission from the Department of Defense over to Commerce,” Parikh said. 

The Office of Space Commerce is charged with implementing Space Policy Directive 3, a four-year-old policy that directs the Commerce Department to take over civil space traffic management responsibilities currently handled by DoD. That includes providing warnings to satellite operators of potential close approaches between their satellites and other space objects.

Parikh said the space traffic management effort has moved at a slow pace due to lack of funding as well as “all the studies and then the change of leadership along the way.”

The future is brighter now with more funding on the way. “What we’ve done is we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” he said. “In the president’s fiscal year 2023 budget, we have almost 8x the budget so we can now start building the investments and the architecture and infrastructure.”

The Biden administration requested $87.8 million for the Office of Space Commerce for 2023 — an 800% increase over the previous budget.

“So they are now starting to go through the architectural reviews and how to be able to build out a prototyping capability, and partner with the commercial sector to be able to leverage that as much as we can,” said Parikh. 

The Commerce Department in February unveiled an early prototype for a space catalog and traffic software platform that would provide basic situational awareness and traffic management services.

Transitioning these prototypes to operational systems is a top priority for the commercial space industry. 

“The anticipated proliferation of both spacecraft and orbital debris will likely drive further hazards and illustrates the need for a comprehensive approach to manage space traffic and ensure the sustainable growth of commercial space,” Boston Consulting Group analysts wrote in a recent op-ed.  “Protecting the growth of the space economy and preserving access to space for all entrants — commercial and government — can only occur if technologies for collision risk mitigation and maneuverability are further developed.”

Parikh said the Biden administration and allied countries continue to have conversations about this issue as orbits become more congested, creating growing risks to space activities.  

“We start thinking about large constellations of satellites and how they all coexist together. Who tracks what? Who notifies people to move left? Who moves right?” Parikh said. “These are hard problems and we are working across departments and agencies to be able to figure these elements out.”

DoD could take advantage of low Earth orbit satellites to deliver 5G for mobile users.

A $600 million DoD initiative to demonstrate 5G wireless networks at military bases nationwide is primarily focused on terrestrial communications but is being closely watched by the satellite industry as non-terrestrial networks increasingly become part of the 5G ecosystem.  

These DoD experiments with 5G also will serve as an indicator of how the military intends to employ commercial technologies for fixed and mobile communications, which could shape future demand for space-based services.

 “The question is where do they go with it?” said Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the defense business division of Hughes Network Systems. 

Satellite operators Hughes and Viasat are among several telecommunications technology firms that have won Pentagon contracts under the 5G pilot project.

“After this experimentation phase, we understand that in the 2024 budget cycle we may see it being programmed in for operational use,” Lober told SpaceNews. 

The next step would be for DoD to take advantage of Low Earth Orbit satellites with lower latencies to deliver 5G for mobile users, Lober said. 

“What we’re doing now is terrestrial. But what’s coming next is that a 5G standard is going to be adopted for space. So we’re going to be talking about satellite-direct-to-phone connections, probably using LEO networks,” he said.

Hughes, an investor in OneWeb, plans to partner with the company on DoD 5G efforts. 

Most recently, satellite communication provider SatixFy Technology announced it successfully demonstrated 5G backhaul communications connected to a OneWeb satellite in low Earth orbit.

Amazon’s LEO network known as Project Kuiper has teamed with Verizon Communications to pair Verizon’s 5G terrestrial mobile network with Kuiper satellites. 

The Pentagon views the 5G race as part of the U.S. strategic competition with China, and DoD could leverage mobile 5G to fill communications needs not currently met by military satellites, said Lober. 

A major development for space-based 5G was the recent release of standards by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the international body responsible for defining technical specifications for mobile wireless networks.. The latest standards release — 3GPP Release 17 — deals with non-terrestrial networks and supports expansion of coverage using satellites.

“Commercial industry is driving that, and I think the DoD can really take advantage of it,” said Lober. “5G gives you much higher throughput, and much lower latency. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that lower latency allows you to do edge computing on the battlefield.”

The satcom industry expects more funding for 5G in the Pentagon’s 2024 budget, he said. “We hope to see funding to take what we’ve done experimenting with terrestrial and make it operational.”

Commercial mobile 5G from space would be a worthwhile option for DoD to fill future narrowband communications needs, he added. The U.S. Space Force is considering buying two more Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites that provide voice and low-rate data transfer for mobile users.

Current MUOS satellites are oversubscribed, and the Space Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives to determine whether it should buy two more MUOS, opt for a new design or use commercial services. 

One of the issues with MUOS is that there are not enough user handsets and terminals in the U.S. military to take advantage of the features of the more advanced payload. Most users have older terminals that only communicate with MUOS legacy payload that has outdated technology. 

“This has been a big problem,” said Lober. “Commercially, we look at space, ground terminal and network management, all in parallel.”

Now the industry is moving to space-based 5G and “we feel that the DoD should strongly consider that for their narrowband analysis of alternatives,” said Lober. “The beauty of that is that if you can get the same device to operate terrestrial and space, you’re really advancing things.”

DoD being poised to transition away from traditional satellite procurements toward greater reliance on commercial space services claims by government are not supported by procurements of bespoke satellites, analysts and industry executives.

The Pentagon plans to spend nearly $13 billion over the next five years to develop and acquire military communications satellites.

According to U.S. Department of Defense budget documents, this large investment supports growing demands for connectivity and secure data networks across the U.S. armed forces and national security agencies. The 2023-2027 spending plan includes funding for the Pentagon’s first-ever low Earth orbit broadband constellation and smaller numbers of bespoke communications satellites to augment or replace existing systems.

“I think it’s fair to say that this budget doesn’t reflect a pivot to a greater adoption of commercial capabilities in lieu of government-owned and operated capabilities,” said Mike Tierney, industry analyst at the defense and aerospace consulting firm Velos.

Unlike satellite acquisitions, commercial satcom services are funded through revolving accounts on a year-to-year basis and are not forecast in budget line items, Tierney noted, so it’s difficult to predict future buys.

Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command, which oversees Space Force satellite procurements, said he is pushing for change in a culture that favors building systems in-house. The goal is to “buy what we can and only build what we must,” he said. “You will start to see that shift, year to year, as we go forward.”

The satellite acquisitions funded in the Space Force budget, he said, reflect priorities vetted and approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The one thing that is always needed is more comm,” he said. “We never have enough comm to get after what we need to do. We need more comm to support the fight.”

Guetlein said the satellite industry could expect more commercial satcom opportunities in the coming years.

The U.S. Space Force’s Commercial Satellite Communications Office (CSCO) said it plans to award nearly $2.3 billion in commercial satcom contracts over the next two years. CSCO buys commercial satcom capacity and services for the U.S. armed forces and allies.

The largest of the commercial opportunities is an $875 million multiple-award deal for low Earth orbit satellite broadband services over 10 years.

The Space Force, in a 2020 vision document, said satcom should be an “integrated enterprise” of military and commercial systems. According to the document, “for those frequency bands, coverage areas or specialized capabilities not offered by the commercial satcom industry, purpose-built constellations and payloads will be acquired.”

Making these buy-vs-build decisions “requires a little bit of calculus,” said Guetlein. “We’ve got to really understand how that capability is going to be used in the future, in a time of crisis or time of conflict. And can I depend on that capability?”

“If I cannot guarantee that it will be there when I need it, then I probably need to own it, not lease it,” Guetlein said. “If industry can guarantee that that capability will be there in times of crisis or conflict, then I can probably buy those services. And I would rather buy those services than have to go build something myself.”

One reason to buy commercial satcom services is that it adds layers of resilience, he said. “In a conflict, it gives us proliferation. It gives us redundancy across our networks.”

At a time when U.S. adversaries are stepping up cyber attacks that threaten terrestrial and satellite-based networks, said Guetlein, the Space Force and its satcom suppliers will be taking a “holistic approach to cybersecurity and not just look at it in stovepipes.” NEW

SATELLITE PROCUREMENTS

The projected $13 billion worth of satellite procurements in the 2023-2027 defense budget pay for a mix of strategic and tactical communications systems.

The lion’s share is for the Evolved Strategic Satcom, or ESS, program. The Space Force plans to spend $5.5 billion over five years to continue the development of three proposed payloads and ground system concepts from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The companies are expected to complete prototype designs by 2025 and conduct in-space demonstrations. The Space Force said it plans to field ESS in the early 2030s.

The ESS will provide highly secure communications lines for the most sensitive national security operations, including nuclear command and control.

Another big-ticket item in the budget is $2.2 billion for narrowband satellites. The Space Force is looking to buy two more Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites that provide Ultra High Frequency (UHF) communications.

The U.S. Navy acquired four MUOS satellites — made by Lockheed Martin — plus an on-orbit spare launched in 2016. The program has since been transferred to the Space Force. MUOS supports mobile users with voice and low-rate data transfer. Because the satellites are oversubscribed, DoD wants to buy two more.

The Space Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives before it decides whether to buy two more MUOS or opt for a new design. A Lockheed Martin spokesperson said the company has kept its production line warm and is “ready for the next acquisition.”

For secure tactical communications, DoD is budgeting $2.5 billion for Protected Tactical Service (PTS) satellites and a ground system called Protected Tactical Enterprise Service (PTES).

Boeing and Northrop Grumman are developing PTS payloads and Boeing is also the PTES prime contractor. Both companies are expected to launch prototype payloads in 2024 for on-orbit demonstrations.

The ESS and PTS constellations are intended to augment and eventually replace the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites made by Lockheed Martin. The sixth and final AEHF satellite was launched in March 2020.

The AEHF satellites carry strategic payloads, which must be able to operate in a nuclear war environment, and tactical payloads for battlefield use. The plan is to disaggregate the capabilities of AEHF into the ESS for strategic communications, and the PTS for tactical users.

The Space Force said the ESS satellites will provide polar coverage, which AEHF does not. The military today relies on two Northrop Grumman-developed Enhanced Polar System satellites to extend the AEHF network over the North Pole.

While military satellites have mostly operated from geostationary orbits, the Pentagon is now for the first time building its own broadband constellation in low Earth orbit that will connect users across the world. The Space Development Agency, which is overseeing the project, is budgeting $2.7 billion over five years for the Transport Layer, a mesh network expected to have hundreds of small satellites.

Even though there are commercially available broadband services, DoD’s requirements are unique, said SDA Director Derek Tournear. The Transport Layer satellites, for example, have to be interoperable with the Link 16 tactical data link protocol that is only used by the U.S. military and allies. “There’s no commercial market for Link 16 as far as I know. So that’s one of the areas where it is mission specific to the DoD,” said Tournear.

INTEGRATION OF MILITARY AND COMMERCIAL

The five-year budget plan includes $257 million for “commercial satcom integration,” a funding line Congress created in 2019 in response to backlash from the commercial satcom industry after appropriators funded a new Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite that DoD did not request. Congress added $600 million in 2018 for WGS, arguing that the Air Force at the time was not providing sufficient satcom capacity to meet user demand.

The integration line “is not huge dollars, and it’s not to buy commercial capacity, it’s just to develop standards and interfaces for the department to plan the architecture,” said Tierney, the industry consultant.

So far, it is not clear that the desired hybrid networks are any closer to becoming a reality, he said. The priorities in the budget suggest that DoD remains heavily invested in military satcom and will rely on commercial services as a “relief valve” when it needs additional capacity.

“The giant pivot people were hoping for is just not happening, at least not as quickly as commercial operators would have liked,” Tierney added.

During a panel discussion at an Air & Space Forces Association conference in March, Guetlein said there’d been a running dialogue on how DoD should operate with commercial space systems during a conflict. “When we were in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was clear to us what was military, what was intelligence, what was commercial, what was allied,” he said.

But the lines between government and commercial could become more blurred if DoD starts buying more commercial services, Guetlein said.

“As we start going into the space fight and seek space superiority, there are those in a camp that says the government has to own all the capability on orbit,” he said.

Some factions in DoD perceive commercial systems as being less cyber-secure than government-owned systems, but that thinking will change as the commercial sector continues to develop novel solutions to protect networks, said Keith Alexander, founder and chairman of IronNet, a cybersecurity consulting firm.

Alexander, a retired Army general and former director of the National Security Agency, said satcom providers have to gradually build trust with government customers much like commercial cloud providers Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure did more than a decade ago when they started to pursue military and intelligence contracts.

Questions about the security of commercial systems “was a big issue that we had with the cloud,” said Alexander. The government eventually warmed to the idea that it could have a “top secret cloud with a commercial vendor. I think showing that we can do the same thing with commercial satellite communications will get us to the same place.”

COMMERCIAL SATCOM INVESTMENTS

Peter Hoene, president and CEO of SES Government Solutions, said the industry is investing billions of dollars in new capabilities and DoD should be taking advantage of them.

SES, an operator of geostationary and medium-Earth-orbit communications satellites, will be adding 11 high-capacity broadband satellites to its MEO constellation between 2022 and 2025.

“Commercial satcom will likely never be a significant player in nuclear command and control and some other high-end missions,” Hoene said, but for the bulk of its satcom needs, DoD should be using commercial systems.

The Space Force procurement office, CSCO, needs to “explore effective ways to adopt longer term contracts, purchasing commercial satcom more like fiber,” he added. CSCO so far “has not met industry expectations to explore deeper partnerships to ensure critical capacity is available to the warfighter when and where they need it,” Hoene said. “The acquisition process and the way the department procures commercial satcom is not where we believe the DoD needs to be.”

SES in March made a major move to expand its military business with the $450 million acquisition of satcom integrator Leonardo DRS Global Enterprise Solutions, one of the largest providers of commercial services to the U.S. government.

Hoene said this acquisition allows SES to partner with other companies in order to meet DoD demands for multiorbit satcom.

“The satellite communications market is becoming increasingly competitive, particularly with the entrance of low Earth orbit providers like Starlink, OneWeb, Telesat and Amazon Project Kuiper,” he said. “We see the importance of integrated GEO-MEO-LEO and managed service solutions for DoD customers.”

CULTURE IS HARD TO CHANGE

Craig Miller, president of Viasat Government Systems, said the industry would have liked to see in the 2023 budget an “increased focus on commercial satellite communications, although we are seeing some motion in that direction.”

“For many years, we’ve been talking to the Air Force when they were in charge of this, and now with the formation of the Space Force, we’re working very hard to get them to understand the value of commercial,” said Miller.

Viasat is a global provider of satellite broadband and is looking to sign up military customers for its new Viasat-3 geostationary constellation of three highcapacity satellites. The first ViaSat-3, projected to launch in late 2022, will cover the Americas, to be followed later in the year by a second satellite to service Europe, the Middle East and Africa. A third satellite will cover Asia.

DoD could save money by using high-capacity commercial satellites for tactical communications instead of buying systems like PTS, said Miller. “ViaSat-3 absolutely can meet the requirements of that system and the anti-jam requirements that are associated with that.”

There are other commercial LEO, MEO and GEO systems coming online that could meet the PTS mission, Miller added.

For narrowband L-band communications, there is Iridium and Inmarsat, although they couldn’t replace MUOS because the military uses the UHF frequency band, and that spectrum is owned and operated by governments.

A spokesman for Iridium said the company’s mobile communications network could supplement MUOS coverage in the polar regions. The company in 2019 won a seven-year $738.5 million DoD contract for unlimited usage of Iridium narrowband devices for an unlimited number of subscribers.

“Since users are already on the contract, it’s an affordable option for the Iridium network to complement MUOS with Iridium narrowband services,” said the spokesman. “We have already tested the capabilities of voice-to-voice calls from Iridium devices to MUOS.”

One problem facing commercial vendors is that DoD buyers often are not aware of what the market offers, Miller said. “We’re really optimistic that they’ll open their eyes to the value of commercial satcom and they use it because they’ll see how effective it is. I think part of it is that they don’t quite know what it’s capable of yet.”

“Culture change is really hard,” Miller said. DoD doing “more of the same rather than doing something new is normal. But all in all, I think that we will see more adoption of commercial.” DoD’s strategy to build a global network known as “joint all-domain command and control” requires massive communications pipelines for data sharing that can’t be achieved only with government systems, Miller noted.

“When you think about a future peer conflict with China,” Miller said, “we have to be in a position where we can leverage our commercial technological advantage and then spend our defense dollars on the things that absolutely need defense dollars, and not duplicate things that are being developed in the commercial market.”

Brad Grady, space industry analyst at Analysys Mason, said satellite operators are encouraged by the military’s interest in commercial satcom but there are still underlying frustrations that the rhetoric doesn’t match the budget actions.

“They keep talking about how Starlink was really awesome in Ukraine, that they could do this anti-jam stuff,” Grady said. Commercial operators wonder if this might serve as a justification for buying more commercial LEO services but it appears to be more of a validation for the procurement of the SDA Transport Layer, he said. “It kind of reinforces the mindset that LEO is great, therefore, we need to own it.”

A message to be gleaned from what is happening in the world — and the increasing awareness of the value of space systems — is that DoD will remain an important customer for the satcom industry, said Grady. “Even though commercial business such as cruise ships and airlines are becoming more important, governments and militaries will still be key players in this market.”