The U.S. Space Force recognizes that to stay preeminent in space it needs to leverage commercial space innovations. That is the clear message in a recent article from Space News.
The article quotes Col. Eric Felt, director of space architecture and integration:
“What’s so exciting to the Space Force and the space acquisition community about all this commercial innovation is that we can use it to maintain our technology lead, and deter conflict with our competitors,” said Felt. With regard to space systems, “we see solutions that are going to help us get after that problem and really deliver the kinds of capabilities that our warfighters need.”
It’s heartening that government agencies — including the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) — have realized it’s time to modernize their satellite communications to gain greater resiliency, security, and cost efficiencies. And that the commercial industry has developed capabilities and services that can be quickly leveraged for government use.
This move involves not only advanced technology but also a new procurement approach. Historically the DoD procures space capacity from commercial providers, not fully managed networks and services. Steve “Bucky” Butow, director of the space portfolio at the Defense Innovation Unit, is quoted in the article about how that needs to change:
“Prototyping, experimentation and validation of space capabilities is an area that traditionally has been underfunded,” he said. “It’s getting better. But if we want to have robust capabilities, we really need to make sure that we’re investing properly in research and development, to include prototyping activities that we do with commercial companies that are doing really interesting things to give the U.S. a competitive advantage in space.”
As an example, the DoD has announced it will transition away from Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites to a proliferated architecture of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. The transition enables the DoD to leverage commercial innovation to enhance missile-tracking and missile-warning capabilities and achieve cost reductions by leveraging commercial commoditized satellite buses and mass manufacturing.
Telesat Lightspeed LEO satellites are the ideal platform to make this proliferated LEO (PLEO) vision a reality because they provide enterprise-grade, secure connectivity. Telesat has adopted the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework for our global mesh network. Also, Telesat will meet Transmission Security (TRANSEC) and Infrastructure Asset Pre-Assessment Program (IA-PRE) requirements from the DoD. It will also be third-party vetted under the DoD’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification.
Telesat Government Solutions is involved in several other recent, contracted programs that aim to deliver the most advanced space capabilities to government customers:
- The Blackjack Program was initiated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to demonstrate how a global high-speed network in Low Earth Orbit provides the U.S. Department of Defense with highly connected, resilient, and persistent connectivity. Under Telesat Government Solutions’ Phase 2 contract award, two Blackjack LEO spacecraft are being designed and built to validate space-to-space relay via optical inter-satellite links (OISLs), as well as space-to-ground Ka-band connectivity to user terminals. Telesat Lightspeed will be evaluated to provide connectivity for government applications and for hosting mission-oriented satellites.
- Telesat Government Solutions is also working on the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node (Space-BACN). Working with DARPA, we are helping to support cross-constellation OISL communications. The goal is to provide seamless “handshakes” between Telesat Lightspeed and the Space-BACN OISL node for resilient, secure connectivity.
- NASA has contracted Telesat Government Solutions to work on the Communications Services Project (CSP). The agency is evaluating commercial services for voice and data relay. Telesat is demonstrating that an RF Ka-band space relay terminal can be hosted on government and commercial satellites for space-to-space connectivity to the Telesat Lightspeed network.
The Space Force is wise to work towards making a broad range of commercial capabilities available to government users. It’s the fastest and most efficient way to apply the latest technology and remain second to none in space.