Space defense experts gathered Oct. 19-20 for the annual MilSat Symposium 2023. The two-day conference connects members of the armed forces with industry to discuss matters of top concern and ways they can work together to address them.
About 600 decision-makers and more than 60 exhibitors were on hand at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.
A United Front – in Purchasing
Space Systems Command (SSC) is making the most of foreign military sales, co-development of capabilities, and working with the space industrial base worldwide to combat threats.
Brig. Gen. Jason Cothern, the command’s deputy commander, said that the Defense Department’s space policy office is working to “increase our ability to share information with our international partners, and we’re working with the Department of Defense on relooking at how we classify information.”
One reason for this is to increase information sharing on details about space programs that are mostly classified.
All of this requires a new mindset among the military, which has long been steeped in secrecy, added Deanna Ryals, director of the command’s International Affairs Office.
“We have not yet fully embraced, on the government side I don’t think, opening up to partnerships with commercial and industry,” Ryals said. “We’re doing a really good job offering up capabilities that our international partners and allies can buy. Where I’d like to see us go in the next five to 10 years is buying into our allies’ systems and bringing those technologies and capabilities that are complementary to ours into the architecture. That’s what we’re pushing for.”
SSC plans to hold a first-of-its-kind meeting Oct. 25 and 26 at The Aerospace Corporation in Chantilly, Virginia, to start learning how it can build a more resilient supply chain.
This meeting is a kickoff to learn what’s possible. “Looking at our major partners, they are all working on acquiring their own national military space capabilities going forward,” Ryals said. “So, as they are acquiring and we’re acquiring, the question is: ‘How can we work collectively with industry as well and be more proactive about supply chain resiliency?’ ‘Why wouldn’t we focus acquisition strategy [to] buy from you, or have you bring that into our partnership?’ And if we’ve got something that we can supply, let’s do that.”
The Space Force plans to award contracts late next year or early 2025 for about 18 Epoch 2 missile warning and tracking satellites in medium Earth orbit. That will build up the Resilient Missile Warning/Missile Tracking constellation that is being developed under a spiral development model.
One set of satellites with new capabilities will be placed into orbit every two to three years, said Col. Heather Bogstie, senior materiel leader at SSC’s Resilient Missile Warning, Tracking and Defense acquisition organization. “We can’t wait for perfect technology to be delivered on orbit every 10 years,” she added.
Each spiral of satellites under the MEO program are called Epochs. The first will be launched at the end of 2026. SSC plans to issue a draft request for proposals for Epoch 2 later this fall.
Bogstie highlighted the importance of the MEO network providing low latency. “Low latency is critical to enabling rapid reaction times and accurate target data,” she said. “Throughout the course of flight, our data is fused with other missile warning and tracking data, and provided to operators who will make sense of it. These operators rely on extremely accurate data to ensure they have properly characterized the missile type, its origin and its intended target. Finally, this target quality data will be used to engage our defensive systems and defeat these threats.”
On the Space Wish List
Space Force’s Commercial Satellite Communications Office plans to set up new groups of providers using myriad constellations, starting with small, maneuvering satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit. Right now, the office runs more than 70 contracts valued at $3.6 billion.
“They’re expanding to incorporate capability-based contracts to include emerging p-LEO [proliferated low Earth orbit] services, commercial X-band, space-to-cellular and small maneuverable GEO satellites, again, trying to stay ahead of the threat and also taking advantage of the commercial capabilities as they arise,” SSC’s Cothern said.
The office released a “sources sought” solicitation Oct. 18 and will put an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract out after that, according to Clare Hopper, the office’s director.
That will provide “access to those satellites, either as individual service offerings or giving the government the ability to effectively acquire our own constellation through unique leasing arrangement,” Hopper said. “What we need to do is expand our relationship with industry to replicate some of the arrangements that exist in the terrestrial fiber optic realm. That includes ‘indefeasible right of use’ agreements. We’ve been talking about this for many years. These instruments convey over the rights of ownership without actually owning the underlying space asset.”