In a new report, the National Security Space Association (NSSA) suggests that the U.S. Space Force and other federal government buyers promote the design of more resilent systems for the commercial space market, which the report says may grow from $400 billion to more than $1 trillion over the next decade.
“Commercial satellite systems typically are designed only with sufficient mission assurance and resilience features to withstand the environmental phenomena and natural hazards of outer space,” per the NSSA report. “They may also have security features to protect against insider threats and cyber intrusion by hackers below the level of nation-states as well as other protection measures to assure positive command and control and system integrity to obtain the necessary return on investment. But their business plans do not include paying to field countermeasures to the array of threats necessary to be employed to conduct combat operations.”
“The USG [U.S. government], however, could either incentivize the design of more resilient commercial capabilities or buy standard commercial goods and then pay for ‘after-sale modifications,'” the study says.
Last month, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) said it had awarded five commercial radar contracts to Airbus‘ U.S. division; San Francisco-based Capella Space; Finland-based ICEYE’s U.S. division; Florida-based PredaSAR Corp.; and Santa Barbara-based Umbra Lab Inc. (Defense Daily, Jan. 20).
The awards came under NRO’s Strategic Commercial Enhancements Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) Framework, announced by NRO Director Chris Scolese last October. Scolese has said that the NRO wants to benefit from the “explosion of innovation” in commercial space.
The NRO has said that leveraging commercial capabilities in commercial radar, hyperspectral imagery, radio frequency remote sensing, and electro-optical (EO) imagery will help the agency reserve its satellites “for the most stressing and sensitive missions.”
The NRO also wants commercial EO satellite imagery to help sustain and strengthen U.S. industry and increase the capacity and resilience of satellites used for national security purposes.
The BAA is to enable the NRO to buy a range of commercial imagery, including EO, radar, hyperspectral, radio frequency remote sensing, and light and detection ranging (LIDAR) data, and to help providers scale up their capabilities.
Scolese has said that the traditional NRO acquisition process takes five to 10 years and the agency has already demonstrated it can acquire systems in three years. The goal with the BAA is to shrink that further, he said.
Pete Muend, NRO’s Commercial Systems Program director, said last November that the NRO buys about 50,000 commercial images per week and will increase that buy (Defense Daily, Nov. 3, 2021).
The NRO is to announce the next focus area under the BAA later this year.
Commercial contracts provide the NRO about 100 million square kilometers of commercial imagery per week, Scolese has said.
Imagery is not the only military function for commercial space.
The new NSSA report said that during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “commercial services provided the majority of DoD’s satellite communications capacity,” yet the study also advised a move away from buying commercial communications services on the “spot market” for military surges–a buy which is frequently costly.
“It will continue to be very expensive to lease surge communications capacity on the spot market — an approach that creates vulnerability to supply disruption if the USG is unable to establish longer term quality-of-service arrangements for the supply of commercial space services,” NSSA said. “Dedicated commercial interfaces should be established to improve communication between the USG and commercial enterprises.”
Among a number of recommendations, the NSSA report counsels President Biden to promulgate “more detailed policy guidance to direct national security space sector efforts to leverage commercial capabilities.”
“The new policy should establish a framework for how the DoD and IC [intelligence community] can seize the opportunities provided by the growth of commercial space investments and activities while acting to mitigate associated risks,” the study advises. “In particular, the guidance should direct specific measures regarding force design to better leverage commercial capabilities and offload commodity or other selected missions, functions, or tasks in order to drive USG investments toward unique and advanced national security space capabilities that create strategic and operational advantages.”