The United States Space Force (USSF) is considering the buy of Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) as a service–an idea that would put USSF in charge of SBSS maintenance and contractor operations.

USSF’s Space Systems Command’s Special Programs Directorate (SSC/ECZ) “is exploring options for acquiring SBSS as a service which is inclusive of contractor operations and maintenance of the SBSS Block 10 system,” per a Nov. 18 sources sought notice.  This requirement is fundamentally different than the current SBSS Block 10 Sustainment contract…which is only inclusive of sustainment and maintenance of the SBSS Block 10 system.”

An Orbital Sciences, now Northrop Grumman [NOC], Minotaur IV rocket lofted the SBSS Block 10 satellite into low Earth orbit from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., in September 2010. The satellite achieved initial operational capability nearly two years later in August 2012 and full operational capability in July 2013. Boeing [BA] and Ball Corp.‘s [BLL] Ball Aerospace built SBSS Block 10.

The satellite has a 500-pound optical camera mounted on an electronically movable gimbal, which allows ground controllers to quickly swivel the camera between targets without having to expend the time and fuel to reposition the entire spacecraft, Boeing has said.

SBSS Block 10 is to allow the quick detection of threats to U.S. and allied satellites so that the latter may take evasive action, as needed.

The Nov. 15 test of a Russian direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapon against one of that nation’s non-functioning satellites generated more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris and hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces. A 2007 Chinese DA-ASAT test that created 3,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than 10 centimeters (Defense Daily, Nov. 17, 2020).

Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of U.S. Space Command, has said that the debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT on Nov. 15 “will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers.”

USSF said on Nov. 18 that it is researching whether contractor operations and maintenance of the SBSS Block 10 space vehicle can be performed as a service from cleared defense contractor facilities, “if and when SBSS Block 10 is decommissioned from operational service in support of the Space Domain Awareness (SDA) mission area.”

“The government intends to provide SBSS Block 10 and other assets as Government Furnished Equipment (GFE),” per the sources sought notice.  “Contractor operations is intended to be based on the existing SBSS Block 10 space segment configuration.”

SBSS Block 10’s space segment has an optical payload and bus systems controlled by redundant Spacecraft Control Processors (SCP), which are part of the SBSS Block 10 command and data handling subsystem. The SCP controls all other satellite bus subsystems, including attitude control, propulsion, communications and power. The SBSS Block 10 ground segment focuses on command and control of the satellite, including on-orbit operations, maintenance, and anomaly resolution.

“Many of these critical design pieces are based on proprietary technology, such as: spacecraft bus and Space Vehicle Processor is based on Ball’s BCP2000 technology,” per the sources sought notice. “Boeing has developed the on-board mission data processor and associated software; as well as the ground segment based on the Boeing/Iridium [IRDM] architecture, design, and software.”

“The government does not own the data rights for the proprietary Boeing or Ball technology used in the development and operation of the SBSS Block 10 space and ground segments and the government does not intend to purchase or obtain these data rights by any other means,” the notice said.

SBSS as a service is to include ensuring safe and mission-required satellite operations, security and cybersecurity, and final system disposal and decommissioning, per the notice.