The U.S. Space Force is looking to broaden the missions for commercial space far beyond launch services and large communications satellites–the two areas where space companies had traditionally focused their commercial efforts.
“There’s a big shift taking place,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce LAUNCH space summit on Dec. 1. “What has happened is, as launch costs have come down, largely because of commercial services, and as smaller satellites have become more operationally relevant, what used to be commercially viable now is just a subset of what can be commercially viable. There’s a huge opportunity going forward.”
“Today, we leverage commercial launch and commercial SATCOM in a significant way for our joint, coalition forces,” he said. “We also now are beginning to leverage commercial space domain awareness, and there are other missions that will materialize in the future—commercial weather, commercial on-orbit servicing. We see a huge opporunity here to have a fused relationship with industry that will provide great advantage.”
Formed in 2015, the CIC is to integrate commercial satellite capabilities into the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The eight companies in the CIC are Eutelsat America Corp., Inmarsat, Intelsat General Communications, Iridium Communications [IRDM], MAXAR Technologies [MAXR], SES Government Solutions, Viasat, Inc. [VSAT] and XTAR.
CIC companies provide such satellite capabilities as terrestrial imaging and mobile communications.
Beyond collaborating with industry on services, Raymond said on Dec. 1 that Space Force is also “looking at adopting commercial business practices.”
U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, appearing with Raymond at the LAUNCH space summit, said that she and Raymond have been working to speed the acquisition cycle for space systems through congressional authority, the use of digital engineering, and industry collaboration.
Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Barrett’s predecessor, “cut 10 layers out of the approval process for acquisitions,” from 14 layers to four, Barrett said.
The necessity to speed up acquisition of space systems “is not just [for] ISR and data analytics,” she said. “It’s communications, information, navigation, missile warning alert systems. We need to be buying and building faster. What we’re looking to do is to adopt the best practices from any agency in the government.
“We’re looking around at all the agencies and seeing who’s doing things wisely, who’s got the best systems, because we know we have to move at the speed of electrons, not at the speed of years,” she said, referring to the traditional planning, programming, budgeting and execution (PPBE) acquisition cycle. “The system was built for the old years age, and we’ve got to be moving faster.”
Barrett and Raymond said that digital engineering will be vital for space systems to reduce costs and accelerate fielding under new operational concepts, such as proliferated low-earth orbit (LEO) constellations for missions, such as missile warning and communications.