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Air Force

45th Space Wing gears up for surge in launch activity

AEHF-4 Webcast Brig Gen Schiess

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. — The launch early Wednesday of a U.S. Air Force $1.8 billion communications satellite will be Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess’  first mission as launch decision authority.

Schiess was sworn in Aug. 23 as commander of the 45th Space Wing and director of the Eastern Range, headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base. Since then, SpaceX launched a commercial satellite from the range, but the Advanced EHF satellite known as AEHF-4 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket will be his first national security mission as the commander of the world’s busiest spaceport. The wing is responsible to ensure public safety during every launch from Cape Canaveral or Kennedy Space Center.

“It’s good to be back here,” Schiess told SpaceNews on Monday.

Schiess was the commander of the 45th Operations Group at Cape Canaveral from 2012 to 2014. Later he served as director of space forces at U.S. Air Forces Central Command in Qatar, as commander of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and most recently as senior military assistant to the undersecretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon.

Space is his passion, Schiess said. “As a captain I worked at Vandenberg Air Force Base launching Delta 2 rockets.”

The 45th Space Wing made headlines when Schiess’ predecessor Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith started what he called the “drive to 48,” or 48 launches per year. Schiess said he plans to pick up where Monteith left off. “We’re at 20 launches, and we have five on the schedule for the rest of the year,” he said. “We’re hoping for 24 so we can say we got half way to the drive to 48.”

It has been a steep climb. “Twenty-three is the most we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “Twenty-four would be great.”

With more commercial activity and new launch vehicles entering the national security market, the range has to operate faster and more efficiently, said Schiess. “Air Force Space Commander Gen. Jay Raymond is pushing us to look at ways to be more responsive.” Broadly speaking, “space is becoming more and more important, it’s being talked about at the highest levels.”

Atlas 5 rocket on its way to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: SpaceNews
Atlas 5 rocket on its way to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: SpaceNews

One priority will be to upgrade the range infrastructure, Schiess said. A recent improvements in the use of mobile vans to receive telemetry and instrumentation data from satellites. Those same vans previously has been used to monitor the electromagnetic spectrum in advance of a launch to make sure transmitters in the area — such as cruise ships — were not using frequencies that could harm a satellite.“The same vans can get upgraded equipment to receive telemetry and instrumentation,” said Schiess. The benefit is that big antennas can be removed from ranges, reducing infrastructure and manpower costs.

Another goal is to increase the use of autonomous flight safety systems, a technology that SpaceX already has deployed for its launches at Cape Canaveral. “That’s the future,” said Schiess. “That’s where we want everyone to go to. It makes for a more responsive range because we don’t have to bring out as many assets to do range safety. ULA and others will move towards that too.”

More commercial activity
The state of Florida’s spaceport authority, known as Space Florida, has been a longtime partner of the 45th Space Wing.

“We are planning infrastructure on the Cape to support 100 to 200 launches a year,” Space Florida’s president and CEO Frank DiBello told SpaceNews on Monday.

The strategy for several years has been to attract rocket manufacturers to set up shop along Florida’s space coast, DiBello said.

“We went after other activities so we can get beyond just launching stuff,” he said. “This has always been the nation’s launch site, predominantly populated by companies that were manufacturing rockets elsewhere and flying them to Florida. Today more of the hardware is being built here. It makes integration, refurbishment easier.”

What used to the Orbiter Processing Facility 3 is being transitioned into a modern assembly line where Boeing is making the Starliner commercial crew vehicle that will fly astronauts to the International Space Station next year. Florida pumped $35 million into an older operations and checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center where now Lockheed Martin is building the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle for NASA.

Space Florida will own and operate an 850,000 square foot building where commercial rocket maker Blue Origin will manufacture the New Glenn, a launch vehicle that will compete for national security launches.

Space Florida also is working to attract the burgeoning small launch industry. It signed an agreement with NASA a couple of years ago to take over the launch and landing facility where the Space Shuttle used to land. Space Florida inked a 30-year deal to turn the facility into a multiuser spaceport. Target customers would be companies like Sierra Nevada and Virgin Orbit that operate smaller vehicles.

SpaceNews.com

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Space Enterprise Consortium sees fast growth

”Customers that want to use our vehicle are coming out of the woodwork. People are joining the consortium like you would not believe.”
— Lt. Gen. John Thompson, speaking at the Air Force Association's Air, Space & Cyber conference Sept. 18, 2018. Credit: U.S. Air Force

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 8, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

When the Missile Defense Agency needed design concepts for a space-based sensor layer, it relied on a relatively new Air Force-funded organization to get the money into contractors hands faster than it could have done itself. Since it was stood up a year ago, the Air Force-led Space Enterprise Consortium has seen rapid growth in industry participation and in funding.

The consortium has roughly 200 members that include small and large businesses, nonprofit organizations and academic research institutions that compete for contracts, typically for designs of new concepts or advanced prototypes. The Defense Department in recent years set up similar consortiums in areas including munitions, cybersecurity and rotary aviation. The Space Enterprise Consortium was formed in November in response to demands for faster innovation in military space programs. Companies apply for membership online and pay yearly dues that start at $500 for small business and go up for larger firms.

The consortium provides an acquisition vehicle for everything from spacecraft, launch vehicles and ground systems. If a defense organization needs something developed fast, it can turn to the consortium and get a project completed in months, as opposed to years under the traditional Pentagon procurement process.

Initially, the consortium had a $100 million ceiling for projects but that topline has been increased to $500 million. The Air Force wanted to “partner with non-traditionals, partner with new entrants in the space business, partner with small and large entities across the space community to try and prototype, experiment and demonstrate faster with capabilities,” Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said at an industry conference in September. “By the end of the year, we’ll have between $150 million to $200 million awarded,” Thompson said. “Customers that want to use our vehicle are coming out of the woodwork. People are joining the consortium like you would not believe in order to be part of this effort. … And we’ve got a lot of plans to take this Space Enterprise Consortium even further.”

Thompson said he has been impressed by the speed of business. “Ninety days to award contracts,” he said. “We’ve gotten a couple of them done in as short as 80 days and we’re looking to make it better and faster as we go forward.”

Projects awarded by the consortium so far include a microsatellite for experiments in geostationary Earth orbit, concept designs for a missile defense tracking system (now known as Space Sensor Layer), protected tactical satellite communications prototypes and a future ground architecture for missile-warning satellites.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has been a proponent of industry consortiums to manage research-and-development projects and to attract startups and small businesses that typically do not work with the U.S. government. “That way they can ‘spin on’ technology but not have to deal with audits and contracts that are 600 pages long,” Wilson said. “We are trying to change how we work with industry.”

The Space Enterprise Consortium, like the other industry consortiums the Defense Department has funded in recent years, is managed by Advanced Technology International (ATI), a Summerville, South Carolina-based company specialized in organizing groups of researchers to tackle technology problems for government agencies. The $100 million contract ATI received from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in November to establish and manage the Space Enterprise Consortium came soon after ATI was selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to lead the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS), a program focused on robotic in-orbit servicing of satellites. ATI was established in 1998 and acquired in 2017 by ANSER, the Falls Church, Virginia-based not-for-profit research firm.

SpaceNews.com

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Air Force awards launch vehicle development contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, ULA

SpaceX, ULA, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems were among the contenders for U.S. Air Force Launch Service Agreement contracts. Credit: SpaceNews graphic

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force announced on Wednesday it is awarding three contracts collectively worth about $2 billion to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance to develop launch system prototypes.

The funding is for the development of competing launch system prototypes geared toward launching national security payloads. Each company will receive an initial award of $181 million.

The Launch Service Agreements are for the development of Blue Origin’s New Glenn, Northrop Grumman’s Omega and ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets. The awards are part of cost-sharing arrangements — known as Other Transaction Agreements — that the Air Force is signing with the three companies to ensure it has multiple competitors. The Air Force has committed a total of $500 million in OTA funds for Blue Origin, $792 million for Northrop Grumman and $967 million for ULA. SpaceX previously received an LSA award but did not make the cut this time.

The Launch Service Agreements will “facilitate the development of three domestic launch system prototypes and enable the future competitive selection of two national security space launch service providers for future procurements,” the Air Force said in a news release.

“Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “We’re making the most of the authorities Congress gave us and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.”

SpaceNews.com

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Pentagon denies report that Air Force Secretary Wilson may be on her way out

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks to the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 22, 2018. Credit: U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department on Friday dismissed a news report that says President Trump is considering removing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

“This is nonsense,” Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White said in a statement in response to a story published on Thursday by Foreign Policy. White did not elaborate. “The Department of Defense leadership team is focused on defending our great nation and working together,” she added.

Sources contacted by SpaceNews said rumors have circulated for two weeks that Trump administration officials who are overseeing a Space Force legislative proposal were unhappy with Wilson for submitting a a memo Sept. 14 laying out a detailed plan for how to organize a Department of the Space Force, with an estimated cost of about $13 billion over five years.

“These rumors are not new,” said one knowledgeable source. “But I doubt any decisions have been made.” This is all part of the infighting sparked by a major Pentagon reorganization, the source said. “People fume, and speculate, that’s the character of this town.”

The administration’s point man for the military space reorganization is Vice President Mike Pence. A spokesperson for the vice president’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Leading the reorganization inside the Pentagon is Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.  His spokesman provided this statement: “I greatly appreciate Secretary Wilson’s leadership, commitment, and vision. We are partnered on implementing the National Defense Strategy and winning. We’re focused on the future of the department. There is no groupthink in the Pentagon as we deal with complex real-world decisions as making large scale institutional change is difficult and demanding. I rely on Secretary Wilson’s advice and counsel.”

Wilson’s Space Force proposal angered Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, who is mentioned in the Foreign Policy story as a candidate to replace Wilson.

At an Aspen Institute event last week, Rogers blasted Wilson for developing a “gold plated” estimate. He said he supports the president’s idea of a Space Force as a separate service but will continue to push his committee’s less disruptive plan that would set up a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force.

Rogers suggested Wilson’s memo was an attempt to sour Congress on the idea of a Space Force. But Wilson has repeatedly voiced support for the president’s proposal since he ordered the Pentagon in June to put together a plan to organize a Space Force as a separate military service.

She said her proposal is “bold” but carries out the president’s intent.

Another source who has followed the Space Force debate said Wilson showed “strong leadership” by putting forth a proposal knowing that it would be criticized by “armchair quarterbacks.”

SpaceNews.com

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Lockheed Martin strengthens position in military satellite market

This article was first published in the SN Military.Space newsletter. If you would like to get our news and insights for national security space professionals every Tuesday, sign up here for your free subscription.

SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has made “go fast” the bumper sticker for space programs. The thinking is that, should a military conflict extend into space, the Air Force would be positioned to protect the nation’s satellites from attacks and also quickly launch new ones into orbit to beef up existing constellations.

So far the company that has most benefitted from the push for faster acquisitions and more security is Lockheed Martin. Its advantage comes from being a trusted supplier with a hot production line for military satellites. Over the past several months, the company received a $2.9 billion contract to build three strategic missile-warning satellites, known as next-generation OPIR — and a $7.2 billion deal to produce up to 22 jam-resistant GPS 3 satellites.

The Air Force decided to award Lockheed next-gen OPIR because it was the only way to get this capability in five years or less, according to Air Force procurement chief Will Roper. “We had to go to vendors that are able to make the buses that are able to survive,” he said.

The latest GPS 3 competition was expected to have more players but Northrop Grumman and Boeing opted to not offer proposals. Roper did not want to confirm or deny that Lockheed was the only offeror. “We don’t talk about how many bidders,” he said. The Air Force is pleased with the award, he said. “We believe we’ll get economies of scale and efficiency.”

Why so little competition? There are not that many companies that can meet Air Force requirements, Roper suggested. For next-gen OPIR, the plan is to bring in other suppliers for the sensors. “We don’t have the broad industry base that I wish we could have but we are working to ensure there’s competition for components of the program,” Roper said. “One of the higher risk components is the sensor.”

FASTER, LEANER SMC 2.0 The commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, said SMC is changing its ways to speed up program schedules. “We’re flattening the organization,” he said. “No more six levels of decision makers. There will be a maximum of three levels.” The staff is being trained to operate under the new “SMC 2.0” rules, he said. “We have to get out of the model where there’s a program executive officer and five thousand action officers under him or her.” Managers and program directors “have to be in the mode of decision making all the time.”

CONTRACTORS OPTIMISTIC “Go fast is something that we’ve always wanted to do,” said Kay Sears, Lockheed Martin vice president of military space. In the past “programs haven’t necessarily emphasized the schedule piece.” The usual program triangle includes capabilities, cost and schedule. “Schedule wasn’t necessarily at the top,” Sears said. “Now the focus is on schedule. It doesn’t mean you don’t worry about the other two. I just means we start to think about trades you might make during that program. And think about the schedule impact.” For contractors, that’s a pretty big change. “There has to be a high degree of trust in order to make that happen, because you’re taking on additional risk in some of those decisions,” she said. “Maybe your decision is different when you focus on schedule.”

SPACE THREATS A KEY FACTOR Sears said the “threat environment” is a key driver in the Air Force’s satellite procurement decisions. “Next-gen programs address the threat environment. That is driving the timing of these systems, whether there’s competition or no competition,” said Sears. “‘Go fast’ is tied to the fact that we have a threat we have to stay ahead of.”

ANALYST’S TAKE Lockheed’s recent wins help the company recover from declining orders after the Air Force decided to stop buying new Advanced EHF communications satellites. “Funding levels remain low due to delays in the follow-on programs, but we should expect to see an increase in space procurement over the next decade for initiatives including the follow-on GPS 3 satellites and the next-generation missile-warning satellite replacement,” said Seamus Daniels, budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


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Wilson: $13 billion Space Force cost estimate is ‘conservative’

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson delivers her the “Air Force We Need,” address during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018. During her remarks, Wilson stressed the Air Force will need more active, guard and reserve Airmen to fully enable the service’s operational squadrons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said her initial $13 billion cost estimate to stand up a Space Force and sustain it for five years is likely to be revised upward as more data is crunched.

In a detailed memo submitted on Friday to Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Wilson provided the first glimpse into the potential cost, size and makeup of a military branch for space. The $13 billion projected cost over five years is based on a force of 13,000 people, including a headquarters of about 2,400.

The numbers, which were produced by Air Force cost estimators, “strike me as conservative,” Wilson told reporters on Tuesday at a news conference during the Air Force Association’s annual symposium.

Wilson did not specify how much higher costs could go.

If Congress moves to create a Space Force, the additional billions of dollars needed to stand up a new service would have to be funded at the same time the Air Force is seeking a significant increase to the size of its combat force in response to growing demands.

Wilson said several more studies will be done over the next six months to come up with a precise estimate of future demands. Funding to increase the size of the Air Force would not be requested in the next budget for fiscal year 2020, which already has been submitted to the Defense Department’s comptroller. “This is a longer term proposition,” said Wilson.

The funds to stand up the Space Force, however, would have to be added to the 2020 budget according to Shanahan’s Sept. 10 memo that lays out the plan for implementing President Trump’s order to create a separate branch of the military for space.

Wilson’s proposal takes issue with some of the directives in Shanahan’s memo, such as the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for space. Wilson called that unnecessary bureaucracy. She also disagrees with the deputy defense secretary’s decision to not include the National Reconnaissance Office in the reorganization. Wilson’s proposal is insistent the NRO and a new Space Development Agency should be in the Space Force to ensure acquisition is closely connected to space operators.

“We were tasked to develop and put forward our ideas,” she said. “The first question was: ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’ It’s that adversaries are developing capabilities to deny us the use of space. That’s the challenge.”

Shanahan’s memo asked both Wilson and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin to submit competing proposals for how to create a Space Development Agency. Presumably Griffin would want  it to be like the Missile Defense Agency, which reports to him. Wilson would strongly oppose that because she believes space acquisitions should be owned by a military service. That is especially critical in space programs, she said, because the operators have to be able to influence equipment design. “It has to be done right the first time,” said Wilson. “You don’t have maintainers who go up and fix satellites.”

Wilson suggested her proposal is only the opening salvo. “I expect there will be a lot of discussion about how to implement the president’s vision.”

Critics have described Wilson’s cost estimates as overblown in an effort to dissuade lawmakers from supporting the breakup the Air Force. Space industry insiders speaking on condition of anonymity said Wilson’s high cost estimates and recommendation to include the NRO in the Space Force are “poison pills” that could derail the reorganization. They also question why Wilson is asking for 13,000 new people to form the Space Force, instead of moving more existing personnel into the new service.

SpaceNews.com

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Air Force Secretary lays roadmap to a new space force

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.38.44 AM

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. —  Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Friday delivered a proposal that details the responsibilities and structure of a future Space Force. In a speech on Monday at the Air Force Association’s annual symposium, Wilson called the proposal “bold” and one that “carries out the president’s vision.”

Wilson’s speech focused on the future of air warfare and did not discuss details of her Space Force recommendations. SpaceNews obtained a copy of the proposal.

Wilson’s submitted the proposal Sept. 14 in response to a Sept. 10 directive from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who asked Wilson and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin to each develop a concept for establishing a Space Development Agency as a new organization dedicated to space innovation and rapid technology development.

Wilson did far more than that. She put forth a concept for how to set up a Space Development Agency but also offered a comprehensive vision and detailed plan for how military space forces, programs and agencies could transition to a future Department of the Space Force if and when Congress approves it. Wilson also articulated a strategic vision for the Space Force and provided a rough estimate of the personnel and funding needed.

In her proposal, Wilson strenuously opposes an initiative by the White House to name an assistant secretary of defense for space. She insisted that the transition should minimize disruption and ensure space warfighting missions are not disrupted.

“This proposal establishes a clear mission, directly related to the strategic problem we are trying to solve. It preserves close ties to the warfighter, ensures strong authorities and avoids unnecessary delays and disruptions to ongoing programs,” Wilson wrote.

Space Development Agency

Wilson suggested the Space Development Agency be assigned to the Air Force Space Rapid Capabilities Office, an organization that Congress already funded and that has authorities to experiment and prototype next-generation technology. Wilson sees the SDA as a natural evolution from the RCO.

The Space Development Agency would evolve to a “hybrid” organization with elements of the RCO and National Reconnaissance Office. The RCO, she noted, “exists now and has the personnel and expertise to meet the needs of U.S. Space Command.”

Wilson strongly opposes the notion of an SDA as a Pentagon think tank with no direct connection to the military services that organize train, equip and “have the organizational strengths” to bring technologies to fruition. Her concept “contrasts sharply with an OSD-level technology policy organization that is far removed from operational needs, fielding and sustainment issues.”

The SDA would be staffed by representatives from all services and government agencies, and it would be closely aligned with U.S. Space Command. The deputy director of the SDA, for example, could be dual-hatted as a director of operations at U.S. Space Command.

To ensure continuity in space efforts, existing programs would remain within each service until a new department is in place, “With the exception of space superiority and some enabling capabilities.”

Wilson is insistent in her proposal that the portions of the intelligence community that support military space should be in the Space Force. She suggests the next director of the National Reconnaissance Office could serve simultaneously as the director of the Air Force RCO. “This would establish unity of command and deepen the connection between military space and the space elements of the intelligence community.”

Department of the Space Force

If Congress provides the authority and resources to establish a Space Force headquarters in fiscal year 2020, “this would allow DoD to build the foundation of a new department,” Wilson said, “allowing the Air Force to transfer personnel and programs in fiscal year 2021 after congressional approval.”

This proposal, she said, “avoids detours that do not support the president’s policy position to establish a new military department.”

Wilson is against the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for space,  a move she suggests would be unnecessary and counterproductive. In his Sept. 10 directive, Shanahan directed the Pentagon’s chief management officer to start the process of creating that office and coordinate with the White House Liaison Office, which will begin identifying candidates.

Establishing an assistant secretary of defense for space or a new defense bureaucracy or moving programs to a temporary holding organization “is not in line with the president’s intent,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson included in her proposal a list of missions and functions of the Space Force. This is the first time since President Trump directed the establishment of a space branch that any DoD official has explained what that force will do.

The Space Force would be “responsible for the preparation of forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war,” Wilson wrote. It will “organize, train and equip and provide space forces for military operations.” It also will develop tactics and doctrine for offensive and defensive space operations, including missile defense, and will be responsible to “gain and maintain space superiority.”

Other Space Force missions: conduct space operations to enhance joint campaigns, provide combat support and joint space bases or other support that is not organic to the individual military services. It would also oversee “global integrated command and control for space operations.”

Space Force size, budget

As a military department of equal status to the other services, the Space Force would have about 13,000 personnel, including a headquarters of about 2,400 with its own secretariat and general staff. Most of the force, about 10,000 people, would be satellite operators, threat analysts and forward deployed units.

Wilson estimated the Space Force budget for the first year should be about $3.3 billion, and $13 billion over five years. The first-year budget includes $425 million for a headquarters, $351 million for direct reporting units, $1.3 billion for space force elements, $114 million for combatant command personnel and $1 billion for combatant command military construction.

To avoid disruption, personnel should stay in their current service units until the Department of the Space Force is created, Wilson said.

The major components of the Space Force would include the Space Development Agency, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, elements of Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and elements of the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. Wilson stressed that the National Reconnaissance Office should be closely connected to the Space Force as well, and that “this action will not adversely affect the equities of the director of national intelligence and the intelligence community.”

Wilson suggested the Space Force also should include some space activities of the Missile Defense Agency, the Strategic Capabilities Office, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Commerce’s space traffic management office.

SpaceNews.com

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Air Force Secretary affirms support for Space Force

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks prior to signing a Letter of Intent with the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., May 9, 2018. The Letter of Intent initiates a strategic partnership focused on research in four areas of common interest: space operations and geosciences, advanced material sciences, information and data sciences, and workforce and processes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

WASHINGTON — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson asserted on Wednesday that the service is not pushing back on President Trump’s idea to create a Space Force. She offered no new details on how the process of forming a new service might unfold but insisted that this “has to be done the right way.”

Wilson opposed past congressional efforts to carve out portions of the Air Force to create a separate service. Along with Defense Secretary James Mattis and the rest of the Pentagon, she is now following the president’s orders.

“We expect to put forward a proposal with the president’s budget for fiscal year 2020 that includes a Department of Space that the president has outlined,” Wilson said at a conference hosted by Defense News in Arlington, Virginia.

Since the president issued orders to the Pentagon in June to create a Space Force, Wilson has not said much on the matter. Before that, she frequently discussed the Air Force’s space mission and highlighted it in most of her public speeches. At the Defense News event, Wilson did not mention space in her prepared remarks and only addressed the topic in the Q&A portion.

“I think the proposal is wholesome,” she said of the Defense Department’s Space Force plan that will be submitted to Congress. Wilson however suggested that much has yet to be debated. “If we are going to do this we should do it right.”

DoD officials in private conversations express worries that the reorganization will be chaotic and disruptive because space is woven tightly into the Air Force’s identity. Wilson’s comments about this having to be “done right” suggest that if the breakup is going to go forward, she would like to see it produce beneficial results for the force at large. One of the criticisms of Trump’s mandate is that it does not explain what problems a Space Force would fix that the Air Force could not address under the current organization.

“We support the president’s proposal,” Wilson said. That said, “none of this can happen without Congress’ involvement obviously.” Once the proposal moves forward, she said “Let’s have this debate” and also “make sure that we don’t do this with half measures,” she added. “That’s probably the most important part for me.”

One of the more contentious parts of the proposed reorganization is the creation of a Space Development Agency to oversee technology development and acquisitions. The new agency — depending on its location and its specific missions — potentially would take resources and jobs from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.

Wilson did not offer an opinion specifically on the Space Development Agency but did say that if there is going to a Department of Space, it should have its own acquisition “authorities and responsibilities just like I have in the Air Force.” Again, she said, “Let’s do this right.” The president has “put forth an idea that is very forward looking, and we have an obligation to put together a proposal for the Congress that supports his intent and does this the right way. That includes full responsibility for acquisition.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan traveled to Los Angeles Air Force Base Aug. 27 to address the  SMC workforce. A DoD source said he sought to reassure workers that the reorganization would not put their jobs in jeopardy.

“Acquisition is a huge enabler, but getting the product right is, in my mind, the most important thing we can do,” Shanahan told SMC workers, according to a DoD news release.

The Space Force faces a long road ahead as Congress starts evaluating the administration’s proposal next year. One of the major sticking points is whether Congress will go along with Trump’s vision of a Space Force as a branch of the military equal to the Air Force, Army and Navy; or whether it should be like the Marine Corps, which is organized under the Department of the Navy.

The House Armed Services Committee passed legislation last year to create a Space Corps under the Department of the Air Force. That may not be enough to satisfy the president but it will be one of the options on the table, said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the HASC.

He said a Space Force is a “good idea,” and that the role of Congress is to “make sure we implement it properly and that it works,” Smith said Wednesday at the Defense News conference.

“I think we have a strong role to play,” said Smith. He believes space should get more attention, “but details matter and that’s where the legislative comes in,” he said. Whether the Space Force  should be a separate service is “up for debate.”

SpaceNews.com

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Air Force soon to announce decision on future launch vehicles

The ULA Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Air Force's SBIRS GEO-3 satellite sits on the pad ready for launch, but will have to wait at least another day after the attempt was scrubbed. Credit: ULA

WASHINGTON — The Air Force is expected to sign deals with three, possibly four, space launch companies as it seeks to capitalize on private investments and fast-moving technology.

Launch Service Agreement (LSA) contracts are projected to be announced in September, according to the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

The LSA program kicked off more than two years ago with the goal to ensure the United States has at least two domestic commercial launch service providers that meet national security requirements.

Three rocket manufacturers — SpaceX, Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) and United Launch Alliance — as well as propulsion system supplier Aerojet Rocketdyne received an initial round of research and development contracts. Now the Air Force will have to decide who stays and who goes for the next phase of the program. A new player is now in the mix as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin reportedly submitted a proposal for its New Glenn rocket.

None of the companies would comment for this story due to the sensitivity of the competition. The Air Force first planned to announce LSA awards in July. Industry sources told SpaceNews that the decision was delayed as the Air Force needed more time to evaluate Blue Origin’s bid.

By most accounts SpaceX is guaranteed to get a piece of the overall LSA funding, estimated at approximately a billion dollars over several years. The Air Force’s most trusted launch supplier, ULA, also is expected to be selected even though it is offering a new vehicle that may not be ready to fly until 2020. The big question is who might get the third award. One source speculated that the Air Force could award Northrop Grumman a contract to keep its Omega rocket alive but might also give Blue Origin seed money to ensure it has some say in the development of New Glenn.

The Air Force’s LSA decisions could reshape the industrial base. If companies that almost entirely depend on government contracts are not awarded funding, they might have to exit the market, analysts project. Commercial players like SpaceX and Blue Origin presumably would not need military business to survive, taking some financial pressure off the Air Force.

According to the plan laid out by the Air Force, the selected three or four suppliers would complete the development of their vehicles by about 2021, and then the field will be narrowed down to two. The two winning vehicles would split an estimated four to six launches each year. At the end of this phase of the program, the Air Force could decide to have a full and open competition so companies that didn’t win the first time get another shot.

Russian engine issue

The Air Force first conceived the LSA program to take advantage of industry investments in launch vehicles and ensure they are modified to meet national security space requirements. Another imperative is to comply with a law that requires the Air Force to phase out the use of the Russian RD-180 first-stage engine in ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket by 2022. The LSA program seeks a domestic alternative to the Russian engine.

Most national security launch contracts today are awarded under the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. Per congressional mandate, EELV as of March 1, 2019, will be renamed “National Security Space Launch” program.

A commercial approach to buying launch services carries some risk, analysts cautioned, because it assumes suppliers will not depend on the government to stay financially viable. This is one reason why a vertically integrated company like SpaceX — which could fill its rockets with its own satellites — is an appealing proposition.

The Air Force wants to avoid a repeat of what happened in the 1990s, when then rocket providers Boeing and Lockheed Martin had forecast a large commercial demand that never materialized. That led to them combining their launch operations into what is now ULA.

With demand for large commercial satellite launches projected to soften, the Air Force has to plan for the possibility that it will pay higher prices, said Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office. “The commercial market has always been hard to predict, and will continue to be hard to predict,” Chaplain told SpaceNews. The Air Force will be challenged to sustain two suppliers, let alone three or four, she said. “They run the risk of being too optimistic about how many launches these companies can win, particularly ULA which hasn’t had many,” she said. “I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

William Ostrove, aerospace industry analyst at Forecast International, said the move to a commercial model carries a number of risks. “The development of new launch vehicles is extremely difficult,” he said. “Many launch vehicle development programs have experienced major delays. Even the EELV program experienced delays in the late 1990s.”

ULA could face delays at it tests a new main engine on Vulcan. “Any design will need to be refined once a final decision is made on the engine,” said Ostrove.

“By introducing a number of new launch vehicles at the same time, the Air Force does increase the risk of launch failures, at least in the short term as the kinks are worked out,” he said. “This is not to say that these risks will continue over the long term. With dedication and financial resources, most launch vehicles are able to overcome delays and failures.”

The Air Force seems to be accepting more risk in order to reduce costs, said Ostrove. “For many years, mission assurance was the most important factor for the Air Force. Costs are now becoming increasingly important in the overall evaluation of launch services.”

SpaceNews.com

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Defense inspector general finds key Air Force space programs vulnerable to cyber attacks, sabotage

SBIRS in test stand

WASHINGTON — An audit by the Defense Department’s inspector general office found security  cracks in the supply chain of four critical military space programs. As a result, an adversary has “opportunity to infiltrate the Air Force Space Command supply chain and sabotage, maliciously introduce an unwanted function, or otherwise compromise the design or integrity of the critical hardware, software and firmware,” said a redacted IG report released Aug. 14.

Auditors looked at the Air Force Space Command’s supply chain risk management program for four systems. They conducted a detailed review of the Space Based Infrared System, and a limited review of the Air Force satellite control network, the family of advanced beyond line-of-sight terminals, and the global positioning system.

Theresa S. Hull, assistant inspector general for acquisition, contracting and sustainment, said the audit was mandated by Congress in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

All four programs reviewed provide strategic capabilities to the military. The Space Based Infrared System satellites detect missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations. The Air Force satellite control network is a global system providing command, control, and communications for space vehicles. The family of advanced beyond line‑of‑sight terminals are nuclear-survivable terminals that communicate with satellite constellations. Global Positioning System satellites provide navigation data to military and civilian users all over the world.

The Air Force Space Command has a program in place to manage supply chain risk for the SBIRS program but “did not fully implement DoD supply chain risk management policy,” the IG found. The command, for example, did not conduct a thorough enough analysis of all critical components and suppliers.

In the SBIRS program, the command also failed to comply with a DoD policy that requires the purchase of some specific integrated circuits from trusted suppliers using accredited processes, the IG said. There were similar concerns in the other three programs reviewed.

The supply chain extends from raw material to the finished product. It covers all phases — designing, manufacturing, producing, packaging, handling, storing, transporting, operating, maintaining and disposing.

Worries about supply chain vulnerability in weapons systems started more than a decade ago amid warnings that components and electronics used in weapon systems that are produced overseas may be vulnerable to tampering or, in the case of software, to malware. A recent report by the MITRE Corporation, “A Strategy for Supply Chain Security and Resilience in Response to the Changing Character of War,” says improved supply chain security requires actions on the part of DoD and the companies with which it does business.

“Nation-state adversaries have exploited cyber and supply chain vulnerabilities critical to U.S. security for hostile purposes,” says the MITRE report. “These include exfiltration of valuable technical data — a form of industrial espionage — attacks on control systems used for critical infrastructure, manufacturing, and weapons systems.”

MITRE suggests all national security and intelligence agencies should form a “whole-of-government national supply chain intelligence center.”

Pentagon policies require all defense organizations to identify “critical” information and communications technology components, purchase those components from trusted suppliers, and test and evaluate these components for malicious threats. DoD can also hold prime contractors accountable for security breaches in lower tiers of the supplier base.

The agency that oversees Air Force space programs, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, agreed with the finding and recommendations of the IG report and assured auditors that the Air Force Space Command will improve the supply chain risk management for the SBIRS program, conduct a detailed analysis of all critical components, improve the scrutiny of suppliers and of the testing process.

The vice commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center is responsible for reporting back to the IG and providing the documentation showing that the actions have been completed.

SpaceNews.com

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SN Military.Space | Space reorganization: Reform fatigue already? • SMD Symposium underway in Huntsville • DARPA soon to announce Blackjack winners

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Reform fatigue? Space procurement overhaul underway as another reorganization looms

SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

These are uncertain times for many of the agencies and offices in the military-space-industrial landscape. Change is in the air as the Pentagon and Congress embark on an arduous journey to reorganize the space components of the Defense Department. An area that has commanded great attention is what should be done to speed up the modernization of space technologies.

It’s in that vein that the commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Lt. Gen. John Thompson hosted industry executives last week in Los Angeles to update them for the first time on “SMC 2.0” — an effort that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson kicked off earlier this year to reorganize a bureaucracy of 5,000 that oversees a $6 billion space portfolio.

I spoke with one of the executives who attended the meeting at SMC. Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, senior vice president at the global satellite communications provider Inmarsat Government, said there was a lot of talk of change but few details. Thompson did not discuss the future of specific programs or offices but spoke more broadly about the intent to change the culture of SMC, she said “They are looking to make strategic shifts rather than moving bricks and sticks.”

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS Thompson has been emphatic that “speed” is the number-one thing these days at SMC. To keep program offices working in sync, a colonel will be appointed as “portfolio architect.” And SMC 2.0 will push “partnerships” with commercial companies and foreign allies. “The rhetoric is good,” said Cowen-Hirsch. But how these intents translate into real change in procurements is hard to see at this point. In satellite communications programs, for instance, the focus remains on “programs of record” while pathfinder projects “have hit a wall.”

REFORM FATIGUE? Commercial space companies have wanted change for a long time, and they will believe it when they see it, said Cowen-Hirsch. “Unfortunately what we’re seeing in so much of the Air Force is fatigue, whether it’s reorganization, pressure, challenge to get things accomplished while they’re in the midst of reorganizing. The distraction factor is high.”

SPACE FORCE STUDIES The Pentagon this month is submitting to Congress a study on how to reorganize the Defense Department’s space components and begin the process of creating a separate Space Force. Acquisition is a top concern of Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who is the Pentagon’s principal space adviser and has led the reform efforts. Observers say SMC 2.0 may not be the type of dramatic change that Shanahan and other senior officials believe is necessary to create a culture of innovation and agile procurement.

SPACE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY? One proposal that has been floated by DoD is to create an entirely new procurement organization like a Space Development Agency to take over satellites and launch vehicle programs. “There’s people at DoD that want to do a fundamental new start,” said Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space and a longtime space entrepreneur. In space, the culture has to change. “They need to set up a new agency with new values, optimized for partnering with commercial space ventures,” Miller said. “If they don’t it will fail.”

Miller views efforts like SMC 2.0 as a “fig leaf change.” He and others in the industry don’t believe this will fundamentally alter how the Air Force does business. “SMC is optimized for failure-is-not-an-option exquisite space systems. That culture is ‘death’ to commercial partnerships.”

The commercial space industry does not have a “true partnership with the U.S. Air Force,” Miller said. “It has to be more than one token person or office at SMC. Show me the people who are in charge of that process and what budget they have and I can tell you if it’s going to work or not.”

AIR FORCE UNDER PRESSURE Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James has predicted the reorganization will be a huge distraction and may slow momentum for change that already has begun under Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. Wilson has said the service will stay focused on the warfighting mission regardless of how the boxes in the org. chart get moved around. “For me, one of the biggest issues is how do we accelerate acquisition? How do we move the Pentagon forward quickly?” she told The Washington Post. “Because there’s a huge bureaucracy around the acquisition and we’re doing a number of things — not just in space, but more generally to accelerate acquisitions.”


SPACE-BASED MISSILE DEFENSE A HOT TOPIC #SMDSYMPOSIUM

The 2018 Space & Missile Defense Symposium is underway in Huntsville, the Rocket City. What everyone is asking: Where is the Trump administration’s much touted Missile Defense Review? The Pentagon said months ago it would be released this summer. Not even a leaked copy has yet surfaced. A likely reason: The administration’s ongoing effort to negotiate a “denuclearization” deal with North Korea. The MDR at its outset was going to address U.S. plans to defend from North Korea’s ICMBs. Another hot topic: Hypersonic weapons, and how to defend against them. The consensus is that the United States will have to put up sensors in space to fill blind spots in the nation’s antimissile defense system.

SPACE SENSORS A MUST Russia and China are said to be close to deploying hypersonic glide vehicles — weapons that fly into space at supersonic speeds and then descend back down to Earth directly on top of targets. U.S. missile defenses were not designed for this threat, which has alarmed Pentagon officials and military leaders. “If you can’t see a threat you can’t deal with the threat,” said Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. “The most important thing to me is the sensor technology,” he said. “We have to see and characterize the threat.” The Missile Defense Agency is studying options. Congress also has asked for a study on space-based interceptors, but the administration is not so keen on that idea.

Watch for coverage of #SMDSympoisum this week on SpaceNews.com


NEXT PHASE OF DARPA’S BLACKJACK TO FOCUS ON ‘MOVING DATA TO WARFIGHTER’ – NEW BAA IN THE WORKS

I heard from industry sources that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency already has selected at least one satellite bus manufacturer in the closely watched Blackjack program.

DARPA Program Manager Rusty Thomas said he could not confirm that any supplier has been selected. The information is being held in secret for now. “We’ll enter negotiations before we can release who these companies are,” Thomas told me.

This is just the first of three phases in the program — projected to get $125 million in fiscal year 2019 — with the goal of demonstrating “autonomous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations” with a 20 satellite constellation in 2021 or 2022. At this stage, bus and payload suppliers would start putting together the first two satellites to demonstrate military capabilities in low earth orbit.

“The program is going well,” said Thomas. “We will select a group of payloads, and if we can, more than one bus.”

PIT BOSS COMING A new “broad area announcement” is in the works for the second phase that will focus on data processing technology, specifically the ability to process data onboard satellites to cut down on the latency of moving data to the ground. This could give military commanders in the field a huge advantage, said Thomas. Speed in decision making is of the essence in the battlefield, he noted. The central feature of the second phase of Blackjack is the “pit boss.” That is the avionics box and computing node mounted on each satellite that provides “mission level autonomy.”

BLACKJACK MISSIONS The most likely missions for the prototype constellation will be overhead persistent infrared surveillance (OPIR) and GPS-like positioning, navigation and timing. “OPIR is a really good way to prove that we can do it,” Thomas said. “Another area we’re looking at is PNT to augment existing systems.” Tactical communications from LEO would be another important mission, he said. “We need to move data to the warfighter.”


MILITARY STUDYING WAYS TO APPLY COMMERCIAL SPACE TECHNOLOGY IN ISR, TRANSPORTATION

The Air Force has to find a way to capture privately funded innovation, “include it in our scheme and program investments” said Lt. Gen. Veralinn “Dash” Jamieson, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In the next two to four years there will be “tens of thousands of commercial satellites providing electro optical, infrared, radar and hyper spectral imagery that will be mapping the globe in minutes, available for anyone to purchase,” she said. “I’m talking about ubiquitous coverage.”

The rise of commercial space was factored into the Air Force’s strategy and investment plan for the collection, processing and distribution of intelligence. The basic problem the Air Force is trying to solve is that its intelligence collection and analysis methods are still very much from the pre-digital age: platform-centric and very labor intensive.

The answer is that a dramatic change will be needed in how the Pentagon acquires and applies technology. Space-based capabilities are viewed as essential but even more disruptive and transformative will be artificial intelligence.

“Space was not the biggest thing we saw. It was the machine intelligence piece.”
Kenneth Bray, acting Air Force associate deputy chief of staff for ISR

SPACE TRANSPORTATION Commercial space vehicles designed to fly satellites into orbit could be used by the military one day to move cargo around the world. “It’s certainly in the cards and available to the military to develop over the next decade,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. The commander of Air Mobility Command Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart last week talked about the possibilities of applying commercial space technology to military logistics. Point to point travel using suborbital flight has been talked about for years, Hart said. “There’s no barrier to that.” If the military wanted to transport cargo across the globe, the technology is available to do that, but a lot of planning and engineering would be required. “We do have technology in launch, re-entry systems and landers that show we can transport high value cargo and land it safely. A container coming from space could re-enter the atmosphere using parachutes or gliding, like the military X-37 spaceplane does. Some of those details would have to be worked out.


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SpaceNews.com

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Commercial space technologies a key theme in Air Force intelligence and data strategy

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 4.35.33 PM

WASHINGTON — Satellites from private space companies can image the Earth in hours and deliver high-resolution pictures at prices that would have been unimaginable just a couple of years ago. Arms control groups and other non-governmental organizations can independently observe what’s happening inside North Korea’s missile bases or on the battlefield in Syria.

Startups are developing mini-satellites that will stream full motion video from anywhere around the globe. A growing number of companies will begin launching radar satellite constellations in low Earth orbit.

Along with an explosion of remote sensing constellations is a booming artificial intelligence and analytics industry that turns raw data into relevant information. On the communications side of the business, at least four commercial space companies two to three years from now will have huge broadband constellations beaming internet services.

How does the Air Force take all that privately funded innovation, “include it in our scheme and program investments?” asked Lt. Gen. Veralinn “Dash” Jamieson, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

In the next two to four years there will be “tens of thousands of commercial satellites providing electro optical, infrared, radar and hyper spectral imagery that will be mapping the globe in minutes, available for anyone to purchase,” she said on Thursday at a Mitchell Institute event hosted by the Air Force Association.

“I’m talking about ubiquitous coverage,” Jamieson said.

The rise of commercial space did have an influence on the Air Force’s strategy and investment plan for the collection, processing and distribution of intelligence. Known as the “ISR flight plan,” the classified document was recently approved by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

“We want to work with industry,” said Jamieson. Because of the sensitivity of the contents of the ISR strategy, the Air Force will invite companies to discuss more details in private meetings.

The basic problem the Air Force is trying to solve is that its intelligence collection and analysis methods today are still very much from the pre-digital age: platform-centric and very labor intensive.

Deploying dozens of spy drones to collect video worked in “permissive” environments like Afghanistan where enemies don’t have countermeasures. The Pentagon last year issued a new national defense strategy that calls on the military to prepare to fight against advanced adversaries like China and Russia. That means a new approach to ISR, Jamieson said. “We need to maintain our competitive advantage. Our ISR enterprise is ‘airman intensive’ and focused on today’s fight. But what about the environment 10 years from now?:

The Air Force has relied on stand-alone aircraft that do “single int” collection. “When we go to exploit the data it becomes very linear, very time intensive and very man power intensive,” she said. “We are exquisite in a permissive environment. Do we have capability that can penetrate and persist in a contested environment?”

The answer is that a dramatic change will be needed in how the Pentagon acquires and applies technology. “We don’t want to just do a ‘modernization,’” she said. “We don’t want ‘old think’ with new tools.”

Space-based capabilities are viewed as essential but even more disruptive and transformative will be artificial intelligence.

“Space was not the biggest thing we saw. It was the machine intelligence piece,” said Kenneth Bray, acting Air Force associate deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“Machine intelligence will enable our humans, our sensors and our platforms,” he said. “It’s going to be the center of what we do.”

Bray said the ubiquitous coverage provided by commercial satellites is a huge opportunity the military should capitalize on. “For decades we had dozens of satellites able to attribute what our adversaries are doing. At the same time, however, our adversaries have been willing to go through the effort to hide from us what it is that they’re developing.”

They can’t do that as easily when there are hundreds of satellites in space, Bray noted. “When you reach thousands, you get to something truly interesting. That’s what we want to bring to this game.”

The ISR flight plan also looks at needed investments in the IT infrastructure. “Data has to be spread across the entire enterprise in all domains,” Bray said. “Our acquisition community is looking at how they can be more agile.”

SpaceNews.com

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Air Force close to selecting next-generation launch vehicles

The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supported NASA’s successful launch of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., April 18, 2017. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — The Air Force plans to reveal this month which companies it has selected for the next phase of the “launch service agreement” program that seeks to use commercial rockets for national security space missions.

The highly anticipated LSA selection was originally scheduled to be announced in July but has slipped to “sometime in August,” a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center told SpaceNews.

The program was created to take advantage of American industry investments in launch vehicles and ensure they are modified to meet national security space requirements. The Air Force has said it wants to develop at least three launch system prototypes and narrow it down to two competitors by 2020.

Most of the national security launch contracts today are awarded under the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. United Launch Alliance used to have a monopoly until SpaceX broke into the market in 2015. After Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, Congress directed the Air Force to phase out the use of the Russian RD-180 first-stage engine in ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket by 2022. The LSA program seeks a domestic alternative to the Russian engine, and also wants to ensure “sustainable competition” in launch services, and maintain assured access to space.

The Air Force wants to have at least two domestic commercial launch service providers that also meet national security space requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads.

In the early phase of the LSA program in 2016, the Air Force entered into cost-sharing agreements for rocket propulsion systems with SpaceX, Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems), ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Each company demonstrated a proposed rocket propulsion system. The three rocket manufacturers and propulsion supplier Aerojet Rocketdyne are said to be in contention for the next round of awards and there has been speculation that Blue Origin will enter the fray.

“The goal is to use innovative business arrangements that leverage industry’s ongoing efforts to develop new or upgraded commercial launch systems,” said the LSA solicitation.

The LSA program also fits the Air Force’s broader goal to get out of the business of “buying rockets” and instead acquire end-to-end services from companies.

One source of intrigue in the LSA competition has been ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur vehicle, intended to replace the Atlas 5. The company was expected to choose a first-stage engine for the Vulcan before the next LSA source selection. But ULA CEO Tory Bruno said last week no decision had been made yet between Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1.ULA picked Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL-10 engine to power Vulcan’s upper stage.

During a recent appearance on talk radio’s “The Space Show,” Bruno declined to comment on the Vulcan main engine selection. “This is an ongoing competitive procurement,” he said. “We’re getting near the end. We’re no longer talking about specifics until we actually get to the deed.”

Industry consultant Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space, speculated that ULA may have left the decision up to the Air Force. “My guess is that Tory is basically letting the Air Force choose his engine for him,” Miller told SpaceNews. ULA could have offered two options for Vulcan, one with the Aerojet engine and one with the Blue Origin engine.

Miller said he is fairly certain that Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket will be a player in national security launch. “The Air Force will want to use New Glenn. It is going to buy New Glenn services once it’s flying and reliable.”

SpaceNews.com

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RL10 engine added to Air Force agreement with Aerojet Rocketdyne

A 3D-printed thrust chamber for the RL10 engine undergoes a hotfire test. Aerojet Rocketdyne plans to use technologies like additive manufacturing in the development of the RL10C-X engine, which is now supported by a revised agreement with the Air Force. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

RENTON, Wash. — Aerojet Rocketdyne and the U.S. Air Force have revised an existing agreement supporting development of a new large rocket engine to include work on an updated version of an upper stage engine.

The company announced June 25 that it signed a modification of its Rocket Propulsion System other transaction authority agreement with the Air Force to incorporate work on the RL10C-X engine. The original agreement, signed in February 2016, covered work on the AR1 booster engine.

The RL10C-X is an updated version of the RL10 currently used on the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launch vehicles. The updated version makes used of advanced technologies, such as additive manufacturing, to lower production costs while maintaining performance and reliability.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has extensive experience building rocket engines for most of the nation’s preeminent launch vehicles and we will continue that legacy with the RL10C-X engine,” Eileen Drake, president and chief executive of Aerojet Rocketdyne, said in a statement.

The modified agreement comes after two companies announced plans to use the RL10 in the upper stages of next-generation launch vehicles they are developing. In April, Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) announced it selected the RL10 for the upper stage of its OmegA rocket. In May, United Launch Alliance announced it would use the RL10 in the upper stage of its Vulcan rocket, including working with Aerojet on the development of the RL10C-X.

The modified agreement, Aerojet said, continues to support for work on the AR1 engine. Drake said in the statement that development of the “first complete AR1” is in progress, with hotfire tests scheduled for 2019.

The AR1 is one of two engines under consideration by ULA to power the first stage of the Vulcan rocket. The other, Blue Origin’s BE-4, started hotfire tests last October. In a June 19 speech at the Amazon Web Services Public Sector Summit in Washington, Rob Meyerson, senior vice president of Blue Origin, said testing of the BE-4 was continuing with “full qualification” of the engine expected in 2019.

ULA executives have said for months that a decision on the engine it will use for Vulcan will come “soon,” but have not offered more specific timelines or other updates on the engine selection process.

ULA is one of several companies seeking awards from the Air Force called Launch Service Agreements to support continued development of their new vehicles. Other competitors include Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and SpaceX. The Air Force is expected to award up to three such agreements later this summer.

The Aerojet announcement didn’t disclose financial terms of the revised agreement, but a June 22 contract announcement by the Defense Department listed the value of the award modification at $69.8 million. That announcement did not disclose how much funding was supporting the new RL10C-X work versus continued AR1 development.

The announcement also did not disclose if any other terms of the agreement changed. In February, the Air Force confirmed that Aerojet approached the Air Force about reducing the share of overall development costs paid for by the company from one third to one sixth.

“The Air Force has gained the necessary approvals to do so, if a mutually beneficial arrangement can be reached with Aerojet Rocketdyne,” the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) said in a Feb. 14 statement about a potential modification of the the cost-share portion of the agreement. “The Air Force and Aerojet Rocketdyne are still in discussions, but are working very hard to find closure on a restructured agreement.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne spokesperson Mary Engola referred questions on contract details, including the split of funding between the AR1 and RL10 projects and any changes in the cost-sharing arrangements, to SMC. An SMC spokesperson was not able to immediately answer questions on those topics late June 25.

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First order of business for Air Force space innovation office: Decide what it wants to build

Director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office Randy Walden speaks at a Mitchell Institute event June 25, 2018

What is the Space Rapid Capabilities Office supposed to build? That is the central question, said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

WASHINGTON — A new office Congress created to speed up the procurement of next-generation military space systems has a $316 million budget, a headquarters at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and soon will have a civilian leader that will report to Air Force Space Command chief Gen. John Raymond.

The Space Rapid Capabilities Office, known as Space RCO, is still missing a key element that it will need to be successful: A clearly defined goal and procurement objective.

“What are they supposed to build?” That is the central question, said Randy Walden, director and program executive officer of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

The Space RCO is being fashioned after Walden’s Air Force RCO — located at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. — that has been widely praised for rescuing the B-21 stealth bomber program from a bureaucratic death spiral. It is also the office that successfully put the Air Force X-37 experimental robotic space plane on orbit, racking up more than 2,000 flight hours over two years. The X-37 operates out of Cape Canaveral from a former NASA space shuttle facility.

The fifth X-37 mission went into orbit last September and was its first aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Walden recalled seeing the first stage booster return and touch down at Cape Canaveral. “It’s very impressive technology.”

Walden, who has been at the helm of the Air Force RCO since 2014, is helping Raymond and the Air Force’s top space buyer Lt. Gen. John Thompson get the Space RCO off the ground. “What I told them is that they need a baseline, a foundation,” Walden said on Monday during a question-and-answer session at a Mitchell Institute event at the Air Force Association.

“To me, that’s the most important piece,” said Walden. “Once you get a feel for the space system you want to go build, then you can start populating with the right folks and get the right contracting officers and program managers.”

The Space RCO was created by Congress in last year’s defense policy bill as a replacement to the now defunct Operationally Responsive Space office. The Space RCO has a similar charter as the Air Force counterpart, although it’s “not quite as tailored or streamlined as what we have, but it’s as close as one could get,” Walden said. It will take some time to get all the pieces in place, he added. “There’s no simple solution to creating an organization. It will take about six months or so to get going, gain their footing. And the most important piece, define what is their task at hand.”

Walden’s office has 250 people and a $30 billion portfolio. Space officials asked if they could “steal” some people for the Space RCO but Walden told them that would not fly. He did provide Raymond and Thompson a list of RCO “alumni” with expertise in contracting and financial management that Space Command could reach out to.

A much longer term and tougher goal is to “instill the same culture” that has permeated the Air Force RCO, Walden said. “It’s not the label on the door that actually makes you rapid. It’s the culture.”

Most Defense Department procurement managers don’t go to work every day intending to slow programs down, Walden said. “It’s the processes, the reviews that add time because of risk aversion.” For that reason every service now has some variation of a rapid capabilities office. “In general, it’s good,” he said. “It’s a message that it’s time to take a little bit more risk and try to get ahead of the adversary.”

The original plan for the Air Force RCO emerged in 2001 out of frustration with the procurement process. It is overseen by a “board of directors” that includes Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Ellen Lord, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Will Roper.

“They are very much in tune with the culture I mentioned,” Walden said. “And they are very helpful.”

Original Link

Air Force pressing on with space programs amid uncertainty about future reorganization

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., military deputy at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, speaks at an Air Force Association event. Credit: U.S. Air Force

Air Force officials said the service is staying focused on the space mission.

WASHINGTON — The business of developing and launching satellites to orbit is continuing apace in the Air Force even as a major reorganization looms.

“We’re executing exactly the way we’ve been executing to try to speed up acquisition,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., military deputy at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.

Bunch did not comment specifically on President Trump’s directive to create a Space Force but said the Air Force is moving forward with its space mission regardless of what happens next. In a letter to airmen last week, Air Force leaders said forming a separate military branch for space as President Trump directed will be “thorough, deliberate and inclusive process.” They cautioned airmen to “not expect any immediate moves or changes.” And they called on the force to stay focused “as we continue to accelerate space warfighting capabilities.”

Bunch insisted during a meeting with reporters on Thursday that the Air Force procurement workforce is doing exactly that. “I’m not going to speculate on anything else,” he said. “We’ll go through the process. We will let the deliberative process play out.”

House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers, an advocate of a separate Space Force, said he expects deliberations to create a new military branch for space will begin in next year’s defense authorization bill.

Rogers repeatedly has slammed the Air Force’s slow procurement process as a reason why space programs should be put under a different management structure. He said rival countries like Russia and China are developing anti-satellite weapons and other space warfare technologies at a rapid pace and the United States is at risk of losing its current dominance and access to space.

Bunch acknowledged the criticism but noted the Air Force is changing procurement methods to develop and deploy new systems faster.

“We already made commitments that we are going to speed things up,” Bunch said. “We are going to continue to do those things,” he added. “I appreciate his interest in what we’re doing,” Bunch said of Rogers. “But my opinion is different. I see things speeding up. We’re delegating authorities. We are standing up a space rapid capabilities office.”

Change is happening, Bunch insisted. “I’m already seeing differences. And I’m confident that those are the tip of the iceberg. We need to demonstrate to Congressman Rogers that can do those things, and show him so we can change his mind.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has directed buyers and program managers to simplify paperwork, eliminate layers of bureaucracy and speed up the contracting process. “We’ve been given timelines by the Secretary,” Bunch said. “We’re marching down that path.”

Lack of industry competition
Another concern for the Air Force is attracting new suppliers from the burgeoning commercial space industry. In satellite programs, for instance, the Air Force relies on a small cadre of contractors. Only one company, Lockheed Martin, makes Global Positioning System navigation satellites. When the Pentagon sought competitive bids, only Lockheed expressed interest as other satellite manufacturers didn’t believe they could challenge the incumbent’s entrenched position.

Only two companies, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, are qualified to produce satellites and sensors to detect ballistic missile launches. So when the Air Force recently decided to begin modernizing its constellation within the next five years, it gave Lockheed the contract for the geostationary orbit satellites and Northrop got the polar orbit satellites. An open competition was not a realistic option.

The Air Force has clearly benefited from competition in the launch market since SpaceX successfully moved to challenge a monopoly held by United Launch Alliance. Just last week, SpaceX won a $130 million launch contract for its Falcon Heavy rocket. Launches in this size category previously have averaged more than twice or three times that price.

“We always want competition,” said Bunch.

Although there are no new competitors in the GPS and next-generation missile warning satellite programs, the government can still make sure incumbent contractors charge a “fair price,” he said. “Even in an environment of sole source, we can get effective cost and pricing data. We’re able to do that because of the history, and working with the companies and the technical knowledge we’ve got.”

Bunch said the Air Force is looking at other ways to attract new vendors. One option under consideration is to adapt the model the Air Force used to buy the next-generation B-21 stealth bomber from Northrop Grumman. The bomber is being developed with “open mission systems” so future software and electronics upgrades can be bought from commercial suppliers as new products are developed.

“I’d love to have competition,” said Bunch. Some industry executives have argued that the Air Force is partly to blame because it writes program requirements in ways that favor the incumbents. Military procurement officials reject that criticism, but industry analysts continue to see barriers around the defense market for newcomers.

Bunch said the open mission systems approach could be adapted for satellites. “That is something we are looking at. That’s what we did in the B-21. We’re looking at how to apply it more broadly in other platforms, and looking at space areas as well.”

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Trump: ‘We are going to have the Space Force’

President Trump and Vice President Pence kick off the third meeting of the National Space Council June 18. Credit: YouTube

Trump can order the Pentagon to create a Space Force but only Congress can make it happen.

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday threw a wrench into the Pentagon’s carefully laid out plans to analyze how best to reorganize the military’s space forces. In remarks kicking off a meeting of the National Space Council, Trump pointedly directed the Pentagon to create a Space Force as a “separate but equal” branch of the U.S. military.

“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something,” Trump said. “I’m hereby directing the department of Defense and the Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. That’s a big statement.”

Addressing Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump said, “If you would carry that assignment out, I would be greatly honored.”

According to sources, Trump’s remarks were not off-the-cuff. He had planned to make this announcement weeks ago, and Pentagon officials had been advised the president would be directing the creation of a Space Force at the June 18 National Space Council meeting. Trump mentioned his desire to have a Space Force at four different events in recent months, and the feedback he received was mostly positive, which motivated him to get the process started sooner rather than later.

So what comes next? Congress has to rewrite Title 10 of the United States Code that outlines the roles and missions of the armed forces. “The president proposes, but Congress disposes,” pointed out Doug Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. Loverro is an adviser to congressional committees and has been a proponent of a separate military service for space.

“Only Congress can organize the military,” Loverro told SpaceNews.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 1947 created the Air Force. The Air Force today oversees about 90 percent of the military’s space funding, programs and personnel. Conceivably the 2019 NDAA that is now going through the legislative cycle could create the Space Force, Loverro said, although Congress would have to give the Defense Department at least one or two years to execute such a large reorganization.

“General Dunford can do a lot in preparation for it,” he said. “But at the end of the day it requires Congress to create a new service.”

According to a defense official, “The Joint Staff will work closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, other DoD stakeholders and the Congress to implement the President’s guidance.”

At the White House on Monday, Trump talked about the Space Force in the context of his broader concerns about the United States’ dominance in space being challenged by China and Russia.

Although he believes the military today is dominant in space, he wants more, Trump told Dunford: “Congratulations on your tremendous success but we’re going to have far more success.”

Creating a Space Force and promoting space exploration by NASA and the private sector will be “important for the nation’s psyche,” he said. “It’s going to be important monetarily and militarily. … We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We’re going to be the leader by far.”

White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement that the president wants the Pentagon to immediately begin the process to organize a Space Force. “The president’s National Strategy for Space calls for American leadership, preeminence, and freedom of action in space, and he sees a separate service focused on space as a critical piece of that end state,” said Shah. “The National Space Council and other White House offices will work closely with the Department of Defense on successful implementation of the president’s direction.”

The president’s directive sets the stage for a contentious debate as the House and Senate prepare to hash out a final version of the 2019 NDAA. The House almost certainly will be enthused by the presidential push for a Space Force. In the past two years it has led efforts to create a Space Corps, but the legislation was opposed by the Senate and by the Pentagon.

“Last year out of a lot of frustration and a commitment to do better in space, we set up a separate Space Corps,” Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry told reporters last week. The committee feels strongly that the U.S. military has to be better prepared and equipped to dominate in space, Thornberry said. “As we get all these briefings about what adversaries are doing, our dependence on space, it’s clear that we have to do better,” he added. “Organizational changes don’t fix all the problems. But on the other hand they can sometimes help make sure space gets the kind of priority it should have, like cyber, as a domain of warfare.”

A tweet by Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat that is closely involved in space issues, suggested the president should not yet assume the Space Force is a done deal. “The president told a U.S. general to create a new Space Force as a sixth branch of the military, which generals tell me they don’t want,” Nelson tweeted on Monday. “Thankfully the president can’t do without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many important issues at stake.”

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Defense budget bill creates path for future network of military, commercial communications satellites

A member of the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron checks wires on a satellite antenna in Puerto Rico, in support of Hurricane Maria relief efforts. Credit: U.S. Air Force

The Pentagon must submit an acquisition strategy that includes both government and commercial space systems, said congressional appropriators.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has to explain how it will buy communications services from the private sector to supplement military satellites, congressional appropriators said in a report last week.

The language from the House Appropriations defense subcommittee picks up where it left off in March when it inserted $600 million in the 2018 Air Force budget for the procurement of two new military communications satellites. In a report accompanying the 2019 defense spending bill, the subcommittee directs the Pentagon to look further into the future of its space-based communications.

The Pentagon must submit a “wideband and narrowband communications architecture and acquisition strategy” that includes both government and commercial space systems, appropriators wrote.

To help move things along, the subcommittee approved $49.5 million to create a new “program of record for commercial satellite communications” within the Air Force. The money was taken out of an existing account that pays for “pathfinder” projects that the Air Force has been pursuing with satcom firms.

Industry insiders told SpaceNews that the HAC-D language marks a major turning point in the years-long effort by the satellite services sector to increase its footprint in military communications.

By demanding a new procurement strategy and funding a commercial services program office, lawmakers are lighting a fire under the Air Force. The committee noted it has been disappointed so far by the lack of a long-term plan to buy commercial satellite communications services. Critics have said for years that the military is not taking advantage of the available capacity. Of 1,738 operational satellites in orbit today, 31 percent are for commercial communications, according to Bryce Space & Technology.

Air Force officials have argued that efforts have been slow because the service has not had the procurement or the funding authority to buy commercial satcom services wholesale. Congress agreed, and in last year’s defense policy bill transferred the responsibility for buying commercial satcom from the Defense Information Systems Agency to the Air Force Space Command. This year’s appropriation bill goes further by making commercial satcom a “program of record.”

“The committee is looking holistically at the space architecture,” said one industry official. “This is a monumental move by the committee.”

The congressional directive comes on the footsteps of a two-year study by a group of Air Force and Defense Department officials on the future of wideband satellite communications. Currently the military operates its own constellation of Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites. Ten have been acquired from Boeing, and Congress in March added $600 million for two more. The Pentagon buys commercial services from different vendors when it needs extra capacity. In the future, the military wants to be able to tap commercial satellite services in a seamless network, but that requires major changes in how satcom is procured.

Defense officials insist they want commercial services to be “integrated” in a government-industry network. But they have not had a “budget environment that can support that,” the industry official said. The HAC-D has made that happen.

Future communications network
The new program office for commercial satcom will have to figure out how to provide “managed services.” That would require access to satcom capacity from different vendors from a single network, and the ability to switch from one to another based on the demand or when there is a disruption.

Lt. Gen. David “DT” Thompson, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, is overseeing the transfer of commercial satcom authority from DISA. Officials from Air Force Space Command and from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center are hashing out the details of how this new authority will be carried out.

Another looming issue is what user terminals would be needed for the future “enterprise” network. The HAC-D said the secretaries of the military services should establish a joint program office to address these questions.

User terminals are no small matter for the Pentagon. The military owns about 17,000 satcom terminals and many would not be compatible with modern commercial networks. One proposed solution is to make software upgrades, said John Monahan, senior vice president of Kratos Federal Satellite Solutions.

The company received a contract for a pilot program to prototype an enterprise network of commercial and government satcom. “We’re building an agnostic interface that allows you to use existing terminals to be able to talk to all satellites,” Monahan told SpaceNews. Software also can be added to provide “situational awareness,” he said. “That allows you to answer questions like, ‘Are we getting jammed and interfered with? If so, do we have insight on what satellites are available that we can switch to?’”

All military terminals theoretically could get this interface, said Monahan. But it would not be realistic to modify all 17,000. For some users and applications, it might make more sense to replace older systems with modern terminals that support many frequencies.

The military’s future network could take years to materialize, a key reason why the HAC-D directed the Air Force to buy two more WGS satellites. There is a strong desire in the military to use commercial space capabilities but the Pentagon still wants to have its own satellites, said Carissa Bryce Christensen, founder and CEO of Bryce Space & Technology.

“I have never met anyone in the government who did not think that government use of commercial satellite capacity was critical to the national security future,” she said last week at a Satellite Industry Association conference. “The consensus view in government and industry is that there are some functions that are more properly conducted by government satellites.”

The government also is closely watching the burgeoning “small satellite” industry and its projected constellations in low-Earth orbit that promise revolutionary global telecommunications and broadband services. A future military network would have to take than into account, Christensen told SpaceNews. “One area that is new and interesting is the use of small sats, and products and services provided by venture funded small sat firms,” she said. “There are multiple programs in which defense organizations are considering and evaluating those capabilities and trying to understand how they might use them.”

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Air Force chief buyer: Don’t believe the hype, space procurement ‘not broken’

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Credit: U.S. Air Force

In a survey of the SMC workforce, the most frequently cited adjectives associated with the organization were “slow and bureaucratic.”

WASHINGTON — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, a huge organization based in Los Angeles that oversees multi-billion dollar programs, will undergo a reshuffle in the coming months.

The reorganization of SMC comes at the direction of Defense Department and Air Force leaders, as well as heads of congressional committees who have grown impatient with the sluggish pace of military acquisitions.

Yes, buying is slow and bureaucratic, but the criticism is overblown, said SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John “JT” Thompson.

“Space acquisition is not broken” despite what people see in news headlines and hear in the halls of the Pentagon, Thompson told an audience of contractors and congressional staff on Friday at a Mitchell Institute event on Capitol Hill.

“We are the best in the world at space. Period,” he said. “You don’t get that way if you don’t have good acquisition processes and good acquisition organizations.”

SMC will be reorganized nonetheless. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told lawmakers that “SMC 2.0” will accelerate the development of modern military satellites that will be less susceptible to jamming and other anti-satellite technologies being advanced by Russia and China. And SMC’s own employees agree this is overdue change. In a survey of the entire workforce of 5,000 people, the most frequently cited adjectives associated with the organization were “slow and bureaucratic,” Thompson revealed.

“Our system has been built to be dependable, to deliver high mission assurance, to emphasize technical excellence,” he said. “We are entering an era where we value speed and innovation.”

He described SMC as a “great industrial age model for building space weapons systems in a benign environment” but one not suited to the current geopolitical reality. “We can’t manage our space environment like an old Soviet tractor factory,” said Thompson. “We have to be more like a Silicon Valley modern business.”

The oversight of space programs will be simplified so there are fewer layers of approval and less paperwork, he said. The management of nearly half of SMC’s programs will be delegated to lower ranked officials so there are “fewer checkers checking checkers,” said Thompson. To promote the flow of ideas, SMC will fund prototypes and experiments before committing to full-scale developments.

What is changing?
The most dramatic reform SMC will attempt is to change how different product lines interact with each other. Each “directorate” now focuses on separate mission areas — precision, navigation and timing; military satellite communications; remote sensing, and space control and space situational awareness. These are vertical hierarchies that operate in isolation and each at its own pace. The Air Force wants SMC to function as a horizontal enterprise.

An example of the inefficiency created by the current organization, Thompson noted, is SMC’s oversight of Lockheed Martin’s satellite business. The company receives about $2 billion a year worth of contracts from SMC for GPS, communications and missile warning satellites. “Connectivity between programs or efficiency between programs is non-existent,” he said. “Why not exploit commonalities?”

Thompson said a new “portfolio architect” team of 150 to 200 people within SMC will be in charge of “integration across stovepipes.” There will also be more outreach offices that will work with the private sector, defense and intelligence agencies, and foreign allies.

SMC will invite contractors to an “industry day” in late July to share further details of the reorganization.

A couple of big-ticket programs will see some adjustments, but they will be subtle. One is the acquisition of two new Wideband Global Satcom communications satellites from Boeing. “We’ll procure WGS 11 and 12 as commercially as we can,” said Thompson. This means Boeing will be have more freedom to use components from its commercial satellite line. “We want to make this procurement far more commercial than previous WGS, less reliant on our mission assurance process.”

This could create friction at SMC, where a culture of mission assurance and minimizing risk is deep rooted. “Our goal is not to sacrifice mission assurance but to repurpose mission assurance to a more commercial model where we rely on Boeing to provide that mission assurance,” said Thompson. “Internally, the challenge will be for SMC and Boeing to try to wring out of the process as much traditional government stuff as we can to get the satellites cheaper and faster.”

SMC will test new ways to use commercial satellites as host platforms for military payloads, said Thompson. In a recent experiment, space weather sensors were sent to orbit aboard Iridium Next commercial satellites. “We have 22 of 32 of those hosted payloads on orbit,” he said. “They are providing data to us right now to predict space weather. Also, we are practicing hosting DoD payloads on commercial satellites.”

Legislation passed in 2016 gives the military license to expedite the procurement of next-generation satellites. SMC is using these authorities to buy five missile-warning satellites from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The Air Force calls them “next-generation Overhead Persistent Infrared” satellites. In reality, though, the program is more of  a continuation of the Space Based Infrared (SBIRS) satellites that the Air Force has said need to be replaced with less vulnerable spacecraft.

Next-generation OPIR, at least in the early stage, is “a lot like SBIRS,” Thompson said. “We believe we can save size, weight and power in block 0 and deliver equivalent capability,” he added. “The big difference is schedule and time. … As we go to block 1, incremental improvements will be made with technology refreshes.”

SMC making incremental, not radical, shifts in procurement may not sit well with top Pentagon officials and leaders of defense congressional committees. In compliance with language in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan in August will submit recommendations on how DoD plans to improve its management of space systems and accelerate innovation. In an interim report Shanahan sent to Capitol Hill in March, he called for sweeping change. “The Air Force must return to a focused adoption of new technologies for game-changing capabilities,” Shanahan wrote. “This focus must be built into the space acquisition culture, and the workforce must be given freedom to execute with a sense of urgency and ownership.”

Shanahan said SMC has to eliminate current barriers that inhibit “alternative ideas, exploring different concepts, and ultimately, providing competitive forces to create substantial improvements in speed, cost, and performance.”

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Air Force Space Command transfers cybersecurity responsibilities to Air Combat Command

Air Combat Command Commander Gen. Mike Holmes. Credit: U.S. Air Force

The realignment means Air Force Space Command will be able to focus entirely on “space superiority.”

WASHINGTON — Air Force Space Command is being relieved of the responsibility of fighting hackers in cyberspace. The job now belongs to Air Combat Command.

This move will “drive faster decisions as we fight by realigning the cyber operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions under the same command,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a statement on Thursday.

ACC is scheduled to assume cyber responsibilities this summer.

The realignment means Air Force Space Command will be able to focus entirely on “space superiority,” said the command’s leader Gen. Jay Raymond in a statement. “Integrating cyber operations and intelligence in cyber capabilities under one command is a significant step towards enhancing our warfighting capabilities to conduct multi-domain operations,” he said. “Air Force Space Command will stay focused completely on gaining and maintaining space superiority and outpacing our adversaries in the space domain.”

The National Defense Strategy “directs the U.S. military to invest in gaining and exploiting information and to deny adversaries the same ability,” Wilson said. “This initiative helps do both.”

ACC is responsible for organizing, training and equipping Air Force units.

The two commands have been in close coordination on the realignment for the past 21 months to “properly align roles, responsibilities and the presentation of ready forces,” the Air Force said in a news release.

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein explained the change was necessary to prepare for a “future high-end fight.”

The units being realigned include the 24th Air Force and subordinate units, as well as the Cyber Support Squadron, Air Force Network Integration Center and Air Force Spectrum Management Office, which currently report directly to Air Force Space Command.

ACC Commander Gen. Mike Holmes said Air Force cyber capabilities are “intertwined with the intelligence, command and control, air superiority, personnel recovery and precision attack missions that we are responsible for.” The move “streamlines how the Air Force presents forces to joint commanders, and it improves our ability to integrate cyber and air operations.”

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Air Force focus on resilience means big changes for spacecraft manufacturing and testing

David Davis, chief systems engineer for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, is exploring the implications the military’s focus on resilience will have on satellite building and testing. Credit: Space Tech Expo

PASADENA, California – The U.S. Air Force’s goal of responding to emerging threats with resilient satellite constellations it can build, launch and refresh quickly has important implications for spacecraft manufacturing and testing.

“The technical practices we employ today will continue to drive high costs,” David Davis, chief systems engineer for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said at the Space Tech Expo here. “That will be inconsistent with the resiliency and the proliferation. We need technical practices that are balanced with this overall program.”

Currently, the Air Force builds and tests satellites to ensure they can withstand radiation while in orbit for ten to 15 years. If the Air Force plans to update future constellations every three to five years, some spacecraft components may not be exposed to enough radiation to degrade performance. If radiation is less of a concern, perhaps the Air Force could take advantage of advanced technology developed for commercial markets like the automotive industry, Davis told SpaceNews.

Satellites built for shorter lifespans also may require different types of testing, more along the lines of what the Air Force calls Class C missions. The Air Force reserves Class C for low-to-medium cost demonstration or experimental satellites built to operate for less than two years.

Going forward, the Air Force would like to conduct operational missions with costs and manufacturing times similar to Class C but with less risk to the overall mission. That might mean accepting a higher failure rate for individual satellites but building more of the spacecraft to reduce overall mission risk, Davis said.

The Defense Department also is reevaluating its reliance on military grade electronics produced in the United States. One benefit of military grade parts is that the purchaser knows exactly how, when and where each part is made. As the Air Force and other members of the national security space community seek to adopt the latest technology, including commercial parts manufactured outside the United States, that degree of familiarity may no longer be possible, Davis said.

Still, the military and intelligence agencies will need to address security concerns to ensure components do not include malicious hardware or software that adversaries could exploit to compromise space systems. “We are working with the supplier base, trying to understand what we need to do to adopt [commercial] products,” Davis said. “How do we get the assurance we need for the applications we have?”

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Air Force aims for reliable launch services in spite of dramatic changes in commercial, military space

Launch of Atlas 5 SBIRS GEO-2 from Cape Canaveral AFS. Credit: United Launch Alliance

PASADENA, California – Sending national security satellites into orbit is about to become more complicated.

In the past, launches largely fell into two categories: big, expensive satellites requiring extremely reliable rides and smaller satellites on slightly riskier rockets. In the future, the U.S. Air Force will launch satellites of all different sizes for customers with varying degrees of risk tolerance.

“The space vehicles we are going to be required to lift are going to be across this entire spectrum,” said Col. Jon Strizzi, chief engineer for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Directorate. “We’ll have to adapt.”

In spite of rapid pace of change in commercial and military space, the Air Force is committed to maintaining many of the processes that have made its launches successful to date, Strizzi said May 22 at the Space Tech Expo here. “As we move in to the future with new ways to produce things, operate them, different commercial landscapes, different military landscapes keeping the secret sauce for our success is going to be an interesting opportunity. We will work closely with our launch providers to do it.”

Through the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the Air Force has sent more than $50 billion in assets into orbit on 72 successful launches, Strizzi said.

The Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program, which is geared to smaller satellites traveling on orbital or suborbital rockets, has flown more than 700 payloads for various research and development, and technology demonstration missions, Strizzi said.

Strizzi said a key ingredient of the Air Force’s success has been its intimate knowledge of how each rockets is designed, tested, fabricated and operated.

Air Force leaders often discuss the need for innovation and agility in addressing challenges posed by potential adversaries. Those goals are pushing the Air Force toward smaller satellites and more responsive launch capabilities.

To meet the often conflicting requirements for speed and mission assurance, the Air Force is exploring greater use of parts that do not meet military standards, additive manufacturing, new propellants, collaboration with NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office, and combining the best practices of traditional space programs with elements of commercial “new space,” Strizzi said.

“We hustle but we do not hurry or rush,” he said. “We are not running with scissors. We do all the right steps along the way to ensure high reliability.”

Original Link

Air Force Gen. Pawlikowski: Military satellites will be smaller, more mobile

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command. Credit: U.S. Air Force

Pawlikowski: “The expectations for our space systems have changed.”

WASHINGTON — Back in 2005, then one-star general Ellen Pawlikowski commanded the military satellite communications systems wing at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, in Los Angeles. In those days, “survivability wasn’t even on the sheet,” she recalled.

Pawlikowski spent eight of the past 10 years in the Air Force overseeing space programs as vice commander of SMC and in senior posts at the National Reconnaissance Office and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Now the four-star commander of Air Force Materiel Command, Pawlikowski mused about how much the business has been transformed.

“The expectations for our space systems have changed,” she said on Tuesday at a breakfast meeting with reporters.

“When I first got into the space business we talked about space systems as ‘force enhancements,’” she said. Satellite communications, missile warning, navigation were support services that military forces needed, but nobody worried that they had to be survivable. “Our total focus was to provide the best capabilities in each of those areas,” she said. “It was assumed when you put a satellite up there, it was not going to be contested,” she said. “That is no longer the situation.”

Electronic interference or jamming always has been a concern. Today, however, fear of satellites coming under attack has reached new heights following intelligence community warnings about foreign powers deploying advanced “counter-space” technologies.

Today, the assumption that space is a contested battleground is driving “fundamental change” in how systems are designed and developed, said Pawlikowski. “A satellite communications systems can’t just provide great communications. It has to be able to withstand an attack.”

Threats are increasing at the same time the cost of launching satellites into orbit is falling, she noted. “Those two things are driving a change in the way we architect our space. The size of satellites will change. The mobility of satellites will change.”

The Air Force has always built big satellites for practical reasons. “It was expensive to get a launch vehicle so you wanted to put as much as you could onto that satellite because you wanted to get as much as you could out of that launch,” she noted. The business has been turned completely upside down: Launch is cheaper, and huge satellites are harder to defend. “Having multiple things on them makes them very attractive as targets.”

It will be up to the Air Force to figure out how to “leverage” the new technology, said Pawlikowski. The basic process of designing and building satellites is not going to change. But the booming commercial space market has to lead to a transformation in military systems, she added. “Every day you hear about someone getting into the market and launching small satellites. That commercial market, from a space acquisition perspective, means a broader industrial base,” Pawlikowski said. “That will require the space acquisition community to adjust how they do business. These are huge impacts both on the space world at large but also on DoD acquisitions.”

The Air Force is now promoting greater investments in prototypes and experiments to test out emerging technologies. The list of projects that that will be candidates for prototyping is still being hashed out, said Pawlikowski. Whether it’s space or aviation system, this will require a culture shift because prototyping means spending a lot of money on a project that may not pan out and never reach production.

“That’s one of the things we still have to work our way through,” she said. “Most of our budget is tied into big programs of record.” It is still not clear when the military will achieve a “comfort level” with the idea that it will invest in a technology, “knowing that we may not buy it,” she said. “The environment is in place to do this.” The Air Force is trying this approach with light attack aircraft. “When are we going to take the first big plunge and invest dollars in a prototype with the understanding that we may not buy anything?”

Asked to comment on a congressional push to create a separate acquisition workforce in the Air Force for space systems, Pawlikowski said she would not support it. Having switched back and forth between aviation and space programs, there is a huge benefit of “cross flowing.”

Original Link

HASC takes up defense bill packed with space provisions • New missile-warning satellite contracts go to Lockheed, Northrop

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HOT TOPICS: House Armed Services set for NDAA markup • Space traffic management policy debate • Air Force picks contractors for SBIRS follow-on

HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN MAC THORNBERRY rolled out his mark of the FY-19 National Defense Authorization Act. Subcommittee provisions will be reviewed Wednesday during the full committee markup.

SURPRISE SSA PROVISION The bill terminates the authority of the Defense Department to provide space situational awareness data to commercial and foreign entities on Jan. 1, 2024, requires DoD to hire a federally funded think tank to assess which department should assume these authorities, and directs DoD to develop a plan to ensure that one or more departments may provide SSA services to foreign governments.

The HASC provision comes out just as the administration prepares to transition space traffic management from DoD to the Commerce Department. Doug Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said this language “suggests that Congress is looking for a smooth transition without a break in service.”

SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS The bill requires the secretary of defense to submit a report to congressional defense committees by Dec. 31 on how protected satellite communications programs meet the requirements for resilience, mission assurance, and nuclear command, control, and communication missions.

WIDEBAND COMMUNICATIONS The chairman’s mark mentions the appropriated funds for two additional WGS satellites and notes that growing demand for SATCOM capacity could mean more business for commercial providers.

The legislative language is a reminder of the continuing internal tension between DoD’s interest in capturing the innovation of the commercial satcom industry but also making sure government-owned satellites continue to be a major part of the mix. The satcom industry is enthused by new efforts to prototype a joint commercial-military network that would include all major satellite operators providing seamless connectivity.

STRATEGIC SATCOM Reliable and completely secure satellite communications was brought up recently as a major concern in U.S. efforts to modernize the nuclear triad. Everyone talks about the vehicles and the weapons, and it’s easy to forget other vital components of nuclear modernization, such as the early warning network, and the communications, command and control systems, said Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration. All of that is entirely dependent on space, he said. “The triad also means space capability.” The classified communications network that keeps the president connected to military forces during a nuclear event — known as NC3 for nuclear command, control and communications — has not “historically been put in the triad but is vital for our defense,” said Weinstein.

MISSILE WARNING SATELLITES The Air Force on Friday announced it will award sole-source contracts to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for the next-generation overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) program. Lockheed Martin will develop the geosynchronous orbit satellites and Northrop Grumman will work on the polar system.

The GEO contract will have Lockheed Martin Space Systems “define requirements, create the initial design and identify and procure flight hardware for a satellite to operate in geosynchronous orbit.” The second contract will be given to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems to define polar system requirements. Lockheed also will be responsible to conduct a payload competition.

The next-generation OPIR will succeed the current Space Based Infrared System. The Air Force wants improved missile warning capabilities that are more survivable against emerging threats. The plan is to launch a new system by 2023.

The Air Force’s decision to sole-source the next-generation OPIR further solidifies Lockheed Martin’s dominance. Northrop Grumman provides the SBIRS payloads and is Lockheed’s primary subcontractor. Giving Northrop Grumman a share of the satellites also strengthens the company’s foothold in the program even if there is a future payload competition

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate said opening up the program to new entrants was not a realistic option given the urgency of the program. “Based on market research, an award to any other source would result in an acceptable delay in fulfilling the Air Force’s critical and urgent requirements.”

NGA SIGNS NEW AGREEMENT WITH PLANET The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency last month signed a five-year R&D agreement with commercial imagery provider Planet to explore and potentially improve the speed at which the agency can extract vital information and analytics from the company’s imagery. NGA is seeking faster change detection, such as when it’s monitoring objects across entire countries. NGA purchased a $14 million subscription for Planet imagery in July 2017, following an introductory contract signed in 2016. The agreement will help to “explore the utility of commercial geospatial analytics,” said Robbie Schingler, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Planet.

NGA is now in the process of turning over the management of commercial imagery procurement to the National Reconnaissance Office. The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee asked the directors of both agencies to brief defense and intelligence committees on the details by Aug. 1. The legislative proposal calls for an “open and fair competitive acquisition process to leverage industry capabilities.”

Whether it’s NGA or NRO, there are still questions on how government agencies should buy remote-sensing data given the growing population of providers and diversity of products. “It’s a new challenge understanding how to asses those capabilities,” said Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, an interagency panel chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

NUGGETS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

ANALYTICS ABOARD SATELLITES One of the next big things in geospatial intelligence is tiny black boxes aboard satellites that ingest massive amounts of data in space and instantly analyze it. No downloading necessary. Geospatial data manipulation and analysis in real time is the holy grail in the military intelligence business. “We are trying to help commanders ‘see through the fog of data’ in situations when they have to make decisions very quickly,” said Melanie Stricklan, chief technology officer and co-founder of Slingshot Aerospace.

PENTAGON RAMPING UP AI The military worries that it is falling behind in the application of artificial intelligence while China continues to invest billions of dollars. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers that the Pentagon plans to consolidate many disjointed AI projects from across the military into a central program office. The reorganization will be led by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin.

AIR FORCE SPACE FENCE Lockheed Martin plans to complete integration of the Air Force Space Fence on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in June and begin tracking objects, at least in a testing mode. Full integration and testing is scheduled to begin in July as the company confirms the S-band radar array meets all contractual requirements.

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Air Force moves to acquire new missile-warning satellites: What we know so far

An Air Force SBIRS satellite lifts off at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: ULA

In the next-generation OPIR program, Air Force wants to show it can take years off the typical timeline for launching a new constellation.

WASHINGTON — The Air Force on Friday released a “notice of intent” to sole-source contracts to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for the next-generation overhead persistent infrared program. The five-satellite constellation known as the next-generation OPIR will succeed the current Space Based Infrared System. The Air Force wants a new system that is more survivable against emerging threats.

Lockheed Martin will be responsible for three geosynchronous orbit satellites and Northrop Grumman for two polar orbit satellites.

In a news release, the Air Force said it is implementing “rapid procurement authorities” and is targeting the first next-generation OPIR launch in 2023.

The Air Force did not provide any estimates on the value of the contracts. That may not be known for months, as the notice of intent only marks the beginning of the negotiations with both contractors. Neither company would comment on the Air Force announcement.

It is not unusual for the Pentagon to publicly notify an intent to sole-source a contract, but this is a especially sensitive program where the Air Force wants to show it can take years off the typical timeline for launching a new constellation. Negotiating deals for major military systems can take several months, so revealing the intent to sole-source now can help speed up the contracting process.

The Air Force’s goal of putting up a new constellation in five years, however, seems ambitious. A 2023 launch is the target for the first geosynchronous satellite. The first polar orbit satellite would launch in 2027. And the entire system, known as the “block 0 architecture” would be on orbit by 2029, according to documents.

The Air Force late Friday published two “presolicitation” notices of intent to sole-source OPIR satellite development and production. Lockheed Martin’s contract will be for geosynchronous orbit space vehicles 1 through 3. Northrop Grumman’s contract will be for polar orbit space vehicles 1 and 2.  Both deals will be predominantly “cost plus incentive fee.”

The Air Force informed Congress in February it wanted to end the procurement of Lockheed-made SBIRS satellites after vehicle 6 and shift the funds previously allocated for SBIRS 7 and 8 to develop a new system. This was viewed by some analysts as a game changer and a sign of a potential shakeup in the military satellite market. But the Air Force’s decision to sole-source the next-generation OPIR further solidifies Lockheed Martin’s dominance. Northrop Grumman provides the SBIRS payloads and is Lockheed’s primary subcontractor. Giving Northrop Grumman a share of the satellites also strengthens the company’s foothold in the program even if there is a future payload competition.

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate said opening up the program to new entrants was not a realistic option given the urgency of the program. “Based on market research, an award to any other source would result in an acceptable delay in fulfilling the Air Force’s critical and urgent requirements and substantial duplication of costs to the government that is not expected to be recovered through competition,” said he presolicitation.

The sole-source decision announced on Friday should be no surprise to anyone who has followed the Air Force’s efforts to replace SBIRS. In November, the Remote Sensing Directorate informed contractors of a need to address an “unusual and compelling urgency”for a new missile-warning system and stated Lockheed was the only company qualified do the job within the required timeline.

Lockheed is the sole producer of Air Force-validated nuclear hardened spacecraft that can meet government requirements and “urgent need dates,” the directorate said. The November request for information said the government was “considering soliciting and negotiating a sole source contract” with Lockheed Martin for the the entire block 0 system, including all five satellites. The RFI indicated that the full architecture would be operational by Fiscal Year 2029, with an initial launch capability in Fiscal Year 2025.

It was known from the November solicitation that the new system would have five geosynchronous and two polar orbit satellites “to counter emerging threats while operating in a contested environment.” What has changed since November? The initial launch of the first GEO satellites is being moved up by two years to 2023, and the satellite contract was broken to give Northrop Grumman the polar spacecraft.

Regardless of how quickly or not the Air Force develops the future missile warning satellites, officials caution that this program is only the first step toward long-term changes in how space systems are acquired.

The next-generation missile warning constellation will be a “pacesetter” for learning to speed up traditional acquisitions, said Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Will Roper. He hopes to see a “switch in the mindset” of procurement managers as they try to balance the need to deliver on time with a “reasonable amount of experimentation and prototyping.”

Developing, producing and launching into orbit a new constellation in five years is “aggressive,” said Roper. “Five to six years is a gold medal.” Whether it’s five or six years, the idea is to start changing the thinking “so program managers can take advantage of discovery in getting things right but can hedge their bets in case something goes wrong.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Stephen Kitay gave the Air Force props for “working hard” to make space systems more resilient. “The next-generation strategic missile warning system is part of a transition to a future overhead persistent infrared architecture that implants new resiliency features,” Kitay said on Friday at a Mitchell Institute event on Capitol Hill. “There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to mission assurance,” he said. “Just as there are a variety of threats and missions, we’ll need a variety of capabilities,” he said. “We’re going to have to bring creativity and innovation to this problem. And we’re working on going faster.”

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Air Force confident it can build satellites faster. A bigger concern: software

Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. Credit: Space Foundation

Only a few weeks into the job, Roper is overseeing wholesale changes in how the Air Force buys space technology and manages programs.

WASHINGTON — Space modernization is “one of the cool parts of this job,” said Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Only a few weeks into the job, Roper is overseeing wholesale changes in how the Air Force buys space technology and manages programs. The battle cry is to move fast, especially with satellites. The Pentagon is trying to replace traditional constellations with new systems that are more resilient to jamming and cheaper so they can be deployed in large numbers.

“I’m excited to be a part of space modernization,” Roper told reporters on Friday at the Pentagon.

“Now that we’re thinking of peer competition, what’s great is that we can take a lot of things we learned in the air domain and think about their analogues in the space domain,” he said. “I’m very happy to see a lot of creative thinking in space right now.”

The Air Force is trying to show it can innovate military space systems as lawmakers continue to push for change in even more aggressive ways. In its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee directs the deputy secretary of defense to “develop a plan to establish a separate alternative acquisition system for defense space acquisitions, including with respect to space vehicles, ground segments and terminals.”

Roper said he has not had “any engagement with Congress on the pros and cons of a separate force.” So far, “I’ve been focused on understanding where space acquisition is.”

Missile warning satellites
The plan over the next several months is to complete a reorganization of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, in Los Angeles. The center manages a $6 billion portfolio including the majority of the Air Force’s space programs. The immediate test for the reorganized SMC will be to start developing a constellation of missile warning and surveillance satellites to replace the Space Based Infrared System. The Air Force bought six SBIRS satellites and decided it needs a different system in the future. SBIRS is the poster child for “exquisite” satellites that make attractive targets because of their operational and financial value.

The future missile warning system will be a “pacesetter” for learning to speed up traditional acquisitions, said Roper. Being a pacesetter “is more than just building a prototype or a low cost system.” The idea is to “drill down” into the reasons why programs always take longer than predicted, he said.

The goal for the SBIRS replacement is five years. Roper hopes to “switch the mindset” of procurement managers so they do a better job balancing the need to deliver on time with a “reasonable amount of experimentation and prototyping.”

Developing, producing and launching into orbit a new constellation in five years is “aggressive,” said Roper. “Five to six years is a gold medal.” Whether it’s five or six years, the idea is to start changing the thinking “so program managers can take advantage of discovery in getting things right but can hedge their bets in case something goes wrong.”

“I’m confident as we learn things we’ll adjust our vision,” Roper said. The Air Force decided that five years is a reasonable goal to get the workforce motivated. “Until you write down the best you can do and go for it you’ll never achieve,” he said. “You’re not going to take a nine-year schedule and it magically becomes five.”

The “litmus test” for the SBIRS replacement program will be how leaders cope with setbacks. “If a slip happens and we deliver in six years, do we view that as a failure? If we do, then this ’embracing failure and going fast’ experiment isn’t going to work very well,” he said. ‘We have to be happy with results that are statistically better than the norm.”

If the new constellation gets off the ground, makes it through the hurdles and “isn’t punished” when discoveries are made that cause delays, “other programs will follow,” said Roper. He wants this to work. “It’s a very important program for the department. And it’s important to me personally because I believe other programs are going to be watching it and taking notes.”

Problems buying software
Speaking broadly about what ails military procurement programs, Roper said he is generally satisfied with the performance of Air Force programs — but only on the hardware side.

“Our big issue is software,” he said. “Almost every software intensive program is over budget and behind schedule.”

The Defense Science Board probed the Pentagon’s troubled software acquisitions and offered some proposed fixes in a recent report. The panel of advisers said the Pentagon has to get on board with commercial “iterative software development” practices where engineers make rapid changes, ask for user feedback and adjust the software for the next increment. Most defense programs use traditional “waterfall”  development  — sequentially going from requirement to software development and then testing. The waterfall approach was mostly abandoned by commercial companies in favor of agile development.

Some of the biggest software headaches for the Pentagon are the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the next-generation operational control system for GPS satellites, known as OCX. To help turn things around, the undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, Ellen Lord, recently hired a noted engineer and technology leader Jeff Boleng as special assistant for software acquisition.

Roper said he is a major proponent of agile software methods.”I have to get the Air Force to where we can do agile software development.” The Joint Strike Fighter will be especially challenging, he said. “It’s a software program at this point. We have to show we can pivot, that we can do software drops like commercial, every couple of months or every couple of weeks.”

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New concerns about U.S. Central Command’s access to weather satellite data

Artist’s view of Meteosat satellite. Credit: European Space Agency

The issue of ensuring weather data support for U.S. Central Command has drawn the attention of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

WASHINGTON — U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia receive weather data courtesy of the European Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization that provides coverage over the Indian Ocean.

This is a mission that Eumetsat had planned to end by now but has been extended at the request of the U.S. Air Force. When an older Meteosat satellite began to run out of service life in 2016, Eumetsat relocated another spacecraft to fill the gap for Central Command until the United States comes up with a more permanent solution. The Air Force is considering using an existing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite as a temporary gap filler.

The issue of ensuring weather data support for U.S. Central Command has drawn the attention of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. The subcommittee is concerned about CENTCOM relying on foreign support for weather data, and does not appear convinced that an aging NOAA satellite is the solution either.

In its section of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, the subcommittee asks the secretary of the Air Force to “develop a plan to provide the United States Central Command with persistent weather imagery for the area of operations of the command beginning not later than January 1, 2026.”

More specifically, lawmakers want to see a plan by March 1, 2019, that “does not rely on data provided by a foreign government and does not include relocating legacy geostationary operational environmental satellites.” They also want a cost estimate of the proposed plan.

Ajay Mehta, acting deputy assistant administrator for systems at NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, said negotiations with the Air Force continue. “Under a framework agreement on cooperation for space-based environmental monitoring, NOAA is working with the U.S. Air Force to evaluate whether a residual GOES satellite can support its requirements for Indian Ocean coverage,” he said  in a statement to SpaceNews.

Former NOAA administrator and retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher said the concern expressed by lawmakers is understandable. “Using an older satellite to cover the CENTCOM area of responsibility comes with the risk that aging instruments beyond their advertised life spans may fail,” he told SpaceNews. “A more permanent solution is clearly preferable. Any instruments that exceed those lifetimes are risky.”

Lautenbacher has been in discussions with the Air Force about providing a “commercial option” to fill the gap. He is the CEO of GeoOptics, a Silicon Valley company that is developing a constellation of small satellites to collect data about Earth’s climate and environment from low Earth orbit.

Ralph Stoffler, the Air Force director of weather, said providing coverage for CENTCOM has been a top priority. “The challenge in our business is that 95 percent of the data we use come from the international community,” he said in an interview in January. “We try to create a balance between what we get from international partners and commercial partners.”

Stoffler oversees the $320 million per year Air Force weather program, with a workforce of 4,300 personnel who support both the Air Force and the Army around the world. Accurate weather data is essential to any military operation. Battlefield commanders require long-term forecasts ranging from 16 days for the Air Force to 45 days for the Army.

CENTCOM since the mid 1990s has relied on European research satellites. “Europe decided a while back it didn’t need those satellites because Russia and China are populating that part of the world,” Stoffler said. Europe has agreed to continue to provide coverage which buys the Air Force time to produce alternatives. “NOAA has been helpful,” he said. “GOES on orbit are as good or better as the European satellites.”

The Air Force requested $63.7 million in its FY-19 budget for a “weather space vehicle relay ground station to execute plan to utilize residual GOES capability to address space-based environmental monitoring weather gap 1 (cloud characterization) and gap 2 (theater weather imagery) requirements over the Indian Ocean region.”

Commercial services also might be considered, Stoffler said. “We will see what the market bears.”

Lautenbacher said small and nano satellite developments are in their infancy, “but will rapidly grow in product diversity and capacity as customers indicate their requirements and interest in purchasing.”

Acquiring data from a commercial company versus building government-owned satellites are widely different business models, and finding a middle ground has been difficult for the Defense Department as the new space industry continues to increase the types of satellite-based services offered to the government.

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in November published a “sources sought” solicitation for the Weather System Follow-On program. The purpose was to begin “market research to identify capable industry sources with full system solutions to meet anticipated Department of Defense space-based environmental monitoring requirements for cloud characterization and theater weather imagery.”

A spokesman said SMC wants to look at “all available industry solutions” with a goal of an “initial launch capability” in fiscal year 2024.

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A test for Air Force space technology buyers: Fast prototyping

The Space Based Infrared System. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Air Force will use fast prototyping in the development of new ground-control and data processing software for the Space Based Infrared System.

WASHINGTON — Two words that come up in every conversation about reforming military procurement: Fast. Prototyping.

“Instead of automatically defaulting to very large exquisite programs of record, we want to do more prototyping and experimentation,” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

SMC is now at the center of a broad Air Force effort to expedite technology to the battlefield. A massive review is under way to entirely reorganize the center that oversees $6 billion a year in space procurements. In the near term, SMC is trying to accelerate projects through a space industry consortium that has a $100 million budget to start prototyping technologies such as ground-control software and small satellites.

At a news conference last week at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Thompson noted that 85 percent of SMC dollars go into four very large program offices and that could change as the Air Force moves to modernize satellite constellations and data analysis capabilities.

The consortium uses simpler contracting rules than traditional programs. So-called “other transactions authorities,” or OTA, have existed for decades but are now being highly promoted in order to attract more vendors. “OTA is an opportunity to reach out to non traditional firms,” Thompson said. “Congress has been fantastic in giving us OTA authorities. They help us with experimentation and prototyping.”

The Air Force will use OTA contracting for the development of new ground-control and data processing software for the Space Based Infrared missile warning system. The project is called Forge, short for Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution. Through the consortium, the Air Force is seeking proposals for Forge “mission data processing” and for software applications.

“It’s a different approach,” said Bob Canty, vice president for business development at Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services.

Raytheon, a top defense contractor with a large footprint in the military space market, is far from the nontraditional vendor that SMC is looking to attract. SBIRS, both the space and ground segments, are highly classified programs and it’s not clear how commercial firms without security clearances would be able to participate.

Raytheon expects to challenge Lockheed Martin, the current SBIRS satellite manufacturer and provider of ground-control systems. SMC is looking for a “flexible architecture,” Canty told SpaceNews. “It will use an OTA approach.”

SMC informed contractors it will use an “iterative prototyping strategy” for the Forge mission data processing application framework and for Forge applications. It will select three prototypes for the framework and three for the applications. Then it will choose the contractor that “develops the best prototype for each effort,” said the solicitation.

Canty said the OTA approach “allows the Air Force to go faster to prototyping.” The acquisition process for software could be compressed from two years to less than three months.

The Forge program would support the existing SBIRS constellation and it will be “extended to the future system,” he said. The Air Force decided in the 2019 budget to stop buying SBIRS satellites and start transitioning to a new constellation that would be more resilient.

SMC plans to continue to use the Space Enterprise Consortium for future projects. As of April 2018, the SpEC has 143 members, 101 of which are non-traditional defense contractors.

The consortium “provides an acquisition vehicle to develop space-related prototype projects,” an SMC spokesman told SpaceNews. “This includes all aspects of a space system including spacecraft, launch vehicles, and ground systems. The definition for a prototype can include, but is not limited to, prototypes for software, hardware, processes, or combination thereof.”

The use of OTA, said the spokesman, “will minimize barriers to entry for small businesses and non-traditional vendors to work with the U.S. government.” Prototypes with values less than $100 million are approved by SMC. Congress put some restrictions in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act for larger OTA projects. Prototypes valued over $100 million and up to $500 million are approved by a senior acquisition executive. Values over $500 million have to be signed off by the office of the secretary of defense.

SMC has released four solicitations to date through the consortium. Forge would be the fifth planned. The first was the Tetra microsatellite project. SMC is interested in developing a family of space vehicles. The second solicitation was for a Missile Defense Tracking System prototype for the Missile Defense Agency. MDA has selected eight companies for award as a result of this solicitation.

The third solicitation released is for protected tactical satellite communications for so-called “small disadvantaged terminal users in small stand-off distance environments.” Proposals have been received and are under evaluation. The fourth one is for hosted payload interface unit prototypes. This would provide encryption and secure transfer of payload mission data between a DoD payload and any “untrusted” satellite host.

SpaceNews correspondent Debra Werner contributed to this story

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Air Force and NRO forge close ties overall and for SSA

Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, who leads Air Force Space Command, emphasized his close cooperation and coordination with Betty Sapp, National Reconnaissance Office Director, during an April 19 press briefing. Credit: Tom Kimmel

COLORADO SPRINGS — Air Force and NRO leaders emphasized their close ties at the 34th Space Symposium here and offered proof the relationship is helping them share capabilities.

“We work very closely with NRO. They are our biggest partner,” Gen. John Raymond, said April 19 during a press briefing. “We started out early this year drafting a concept of operations. We wrote that together. That provides us the sheet music on how we are going to operate in a contested domain.”

NRO Director Betty Sapp offered a similar sentiment.

“The need to work together to help each other toward resiliency  in a shared space has given us more touch points and more opportunities  to work together than ever before,” Sapp said in her April 16 keynote address. “The urgency to get there as soon as possible has left both of us very singularly unconcerned about who does what as long as we both do what’s right for national security space.”

Raymond and Sapp meets monthly to review topics related to their common concept of operations, Raymond said.

During one of the meetings, the Air Force and NRO leader agreed to join forces on a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program.

“We had an SSA program we were going to develop,” Raymond said. “It turns out the NRO had a capability that was going to better meet our mission needs. They were going to be able to get it on orbit faster because they were a little ahead of us in starting. So we partnered with them in that program.”

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SMC 2.0: Air Force begins major reorganization of acquisition offices

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Credit: U.S. Air Force

SMC will have a “chief architect” to guide and look across the entire space enterprise.

COLORADO SPRINGS — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center is being redesigned for speed.

After a four-month review, SMC Commander Lt. Gen. J.T. Thompson will begin the restructuring of the massive organization that oversees a $6 billion space portfolio.

In a keynote speech Tuesday at the 34th Space Symposium, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson offered a preview of the upcoming reorganization. The central goal, she said, is to take down the walls that keep programs in stovepipes and create a more unified enterprise that looks at systems horizontally from design to production.

SMC will have a “chief architect” to guide and look across the entire space enterprise, Wilson said. Two new offices will be created. One will focus on innovation. The other will work to increase partnerships with foreign allies and commercial space companies.

The final product will be revealed in October, said Wilson. The first big test for SMC 2.0 will be the next-generation missile-warning constellation that will replace the current Space Based Infrared System. The Air Force decided to cancel purchases of SBIRS satellites 7 and 8 and invest in a more resilient system. It estimated that it would have taken nine years to build those two satellites. Wilson said the reorganized SMC will cut the time to develop and produce the next generation missile warning satellites from nine to five years.

Wilson also announced the Air Force will establish a new office that will report directly to Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Will Roper and whose mission will be to “speed things up.” This office will work with program managers to identify bottlenecks. “Their job will not be to buy things but to change the Pentagon rules and processes through which we buy things so that speed is a priority and an expectation,” said Wilson. “It’s time to stop circumventing the bureaucracy and start rewiring it.”

Many fingers are pointed when acquisition programs take too long to deliver products, but the “biggest barrier is in the Pentagon,” Wilson said. She boasted that the Air Force has been the “most aggressive of the services in using special acquisition processes” like the Rapid Capabilities Office to accelerate procurement.

Wilson said she has already moved to delegate authorities down the chain of command to expedite programs, but the red tape is still excessive. “It doesn’t do any good to delegate milestone decision authority to lower levels if program managers still have to get approval for technology readiness from a stable of people, each of whom is empowered to say ‘no’ and often rewarded for saying ‘no.’”

U.S. Strategic Command’s Gen. John Hyten, who has made headlines for criticizing the Air Force procurement system, said he is enthused by the changes that are now happening.

“I’m really excited about what the Air Force is doing,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I won’t tell the Air Force what to buy,” but he wants to make sure systems meet the operators’ requirements. For STRATCOM, the most important attributes are resilience and capability. Hyten sent shockwaves through the procurement establishment when he called on the Air Force to stop building expensive satellites that make juicy targets for the enemy.

“I made a little bit of an overstatement to make a point,” Hyten acknowledged. “I was trying to make a point that I need a flexible, resilient warfighting capability.”

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Air Force moves to expand international military space coalition

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. Credit: Chuck Bigger for SpaceNews

Air Force Secretary Wilson: “Countries with allies thrive, those without, wither.”

COLORADO SPRINGS — The 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, over the past year alerted foreign governments and private companies of more than 300,000 potential collisions in space.

Most recently, the squadron joined forces with space officials from eight nations to deal with the potentially dangerous reentry path of the Chinese space station Tiangong-1.

When it comes to monitoring space for incoming debris or nefarious activities, the more eyes on the sky, the better. “We face a more competitive and dangerous international security environment than we have seen in decades,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. And the United States can’t deal with this alone. “Countries with allies thrive, those without, wither,” she said Tuesday in a keynote speech at the 34th Space Symposium.

As the Air Force develops strategies and tactics to fight back if hostile nations attack U.S. satellites, it is moving to build a bigger coalition of space-faring countries and to deepen ties with traditional allies by inviting their militaries, starting in 2019, to attend U.S. military schools where Air Force space officers learn about space warfare.

“The community of space faring nations is expanding,” Wilson said. “I met last night with representatives from Brazil, Chile, the European Union, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and Norway to discuss possible cooperation in space.”

The Air Force has been successful at forging ties with nations whose pilots train at U.S. military flight schools. “It’s time to go further,” Wilson said.

“It’s time to build on years of collaboration to deepen our relationships with our allies and partners in space,” she said. “We will strengthen our alliances and attract new partners not just by sharing data from monitoring space, but by training and working closely with each other in space operations.”

The plan is to add two courses for U.S. allies at the National Security Space Institute located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, including one on situational awareness, and another on collision avoidance, deorbit and reentry. More advanced courses on national security space will be opened to military members of allied countries. Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom currently attend. New Zealand, France, Germany, Japan and others will be invited to send officers to the National Security Space Institute, Wilson said.

Air Force leaders believe efforts to grow the space alliance will pay off in the long term and will help deter future aggression from China and Russia. “This will allow for greater understanding of Air Force space employment, setting the foundation for potential operations in the future versus partners starting from zero during a rapidly developing contingency,” an official said on background.

The National Security Space Institute was created in 2004 under Air Force Space Command to provide space education and training to Air Force space professionals and the broader national security space community. It falls under the Air Force Institute of Technology, a component of Air University.

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Raytheon says VIIRS could meet DoD weather requirements without further development

This is an image of Raytheon’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite undergoing testing at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, California. Credit: Reuben Wu

As the U.S. Air Force surveys the market to identify contractors who could develop electro-optical infrared sensors to meet Defense Department’s weather requirements, Raytheon is highlighting the capabilities of its existing sensor, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), currently flying on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite and NOAA-20, known prior to launch as Joint Polar Satellite System-1.

“The VIIRS sensor today was built to meet all of the DoD’s weather needs for electro-optical infrared,” said Wallis Laughrey, Raytheon Space Systems vice president. “It’s currently satisfying those needs just not in the early morning orbit, which is particularly important to the Department of Defense because of timeliness.”

The Air Force has two initiatives underway to enhance its ability to monitor weather using electro-optical infrared imagers. It is working with the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office to launch a small satellite around 2022 to bridge the gap created by the end of Defense Meteorological Satellite-19 operations.

The Air Force also issued a Request for Information in November, asking industry what it could offer to meet the Defense Department’s requirements for space-based monitoring of clouds and weather imagery in theaters of operation.

“The system solutions will consist of a space segment, containing cost effective, space-based Low Earth Orbiting Sun-synchronous Electro-Optical Infrared sensor(s) with real-time data broadcast capabilities, integrated with a to be determined DoD, civil, or commercial ground segment,” according to the Nov. 29 solicitation in FedBizOpps. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Remote Sensing Systems Directorate “seeks to receive information that will further clarify the industrial base landscape so that the Government can consider developing a solicitation.”

“We are in dialogue with the Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to say, ‘VIIRS already meets your needs. You are starting two new development programs that have less capability than the one you have currently in production today albeit with another agency,” Laughrey told SpaceNews April 16 at the 34th Space Symposium here.

The requirements for Weather Satellite Follow-on, Electro-Optical Infrared, known as WSF-E, and the requirements for the gap filler mission, led by the Pentagon’s ORS office known as ORS-8 “are less than what we are already doing today,” Laughrey said.

That’s because the VIIRS sensor was designed to fulfill the needs of the NASA science community, NOAA weather forecasters and the Defense Department as part of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System program. When that program was cancelled, NASA and NOAA continued funding development and production of VIIRS, which flies on Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft in the afternoon orbit to provide data for civil weather and scientific missions.

“When you take that superset of [DoD, NOAA and NASA] requirements, VIIRS has more capability than what the Department of Defense may say they need,” Laughrey said. “The DoD is using VIIRS for all of its electro-optical infrared data today. They are just not getting it as timely as they want.”

Raytheon executives are meeting with the Defense Department weather forecasters and the people drafting military requirements to understand future weather forecasting needs, Laughrey said.

“Clearly the DoD has needs to satisfy quickly with the right capability,” Laughrey said. “If the right answer is to develop a new sensor then that’s our business and we are prepared and supportive of anything the DoD chooses to go do.”

Nevertheless, Raytheon is making sure Defense Department and Air Force officials are aware that it has a hot production line for “a sensor the military already is using to meet its needs,” Laughrey said. In 2016, NASA awarded Raytheon $564 million to build VIIRS sensors for Joint Polar Satellite System-3 and -4.

“It takes away an enormous amount of development risk if you don’t change anything and buy what you are already building,” Laughrey said.

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Mattis to decide future of nuclear command, control and communications

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WASHINGTON — The classified communications system that keeps the president connected to military forces during a nuclear event is being reviewed amid concerns that the technology is outdated and there is no clear plan to modernize it.

“Discussions are taking place at the secretary of defense and chairman levels,” said Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command.

Global Strike Command currently is in charge of the Air Force’s portion of the nuclear command, control and communications system, or NC3. The Air Force today is responsible for about 70 percent of the 62 air, space and ground systems that make up the NC3 and collectively provide secure, survivable and resilient communications for the president to issue nuclear orders.

What, if any, changes will be made to the NC3 organization is still unknown. During an Air Force Association event on Wednesday, Rand said he is not “completely privy” to the details of the ongoing review.

The effort is led by the director of operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Strategic Command. “STRATCOM will have a heavy role,” Rand said.

As of today, he said, “I continue to work within the governance that we have right now.” Rand is scheduled to retire this summer after more than 39 years of service.

The Air Force management of the NC3 has come under criticism. In a report last summer, the Government Accountability Office said the Air Force was making upgrades to the system “but it has not yet focused on long-term NC3 needs.”

The issue caught the attention of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review Mattis called for a review of the governance structure of the NC3 program and directed the Joint Staff to submit by May 1 a “plan to reform NC3 governance to ensure its effective functioning and modernization.”

Joint Staff spokesman Maj. Will Powell said the review is proceeding on schedule. “The Joint Staff is leading a planning team consisting of DoD NC3 subject matter experts and stakeholders in an effort to review and make recommendations on improvements to NC3 governance,” Powell said in a statement to SpaceNews. “Current planning efforts are on track to provide recommendations to the Secretary of Defense by May 1.”

The Nuclear Posture Review raised alarms about the state of the NC3 system. Networks that were on the cutting edge in the 1970s are now “subject to challenges from both aging system components and new, growing 21st century threats,” the NPR said. “Of particular concern are expanding threats in space and cyber space.”

The NC3 includes warning satellites and radars; communications satellites, aircraft, and ground stations; fixed and mobile command posts; and the control centers for nuclear systems. The NPR said many of these systems use antiquated technology that has not been modernized in almost three decades.

Ensuring the security of satellites that support classified nuclear communications and missile warning is a major concern because they are also used by the military in day-to-day operations. Some are specific to the nuclear mission, but most support both nuclear and conventional missions.

“Space is no longer a sanctuary and orbital space is increasingly congested, competitive and contested,” the NPR said. “A number of countries, particularly China and Russia, have developed the means to disrupt, disable, and destroy U.S. assets in space.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that modernizing the NC3 will cost $58 billion over 10 years.

The commander of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten told SpaceNews in a interview last month that he is spending a lot of time dealing with the future of NC3.

“This is an old system,” he said. But by virtue of being old and of being a “closed network” it’s also less vulnerable to cyber attacks than modern digital systems that are connected to the internet.

“It’s very resilient against threats, and I’m very confident it can handle anything today,” Hyten said. The problem is what happens a decade from now when the Defense Department starts rolling out the next generation of nuclear bombers, missiles and submarines. “They all are going to come in with a new command-and-control architecture” and will not be compatible with a communications network designed in the 1960s. “They will have modern technology and have to plug into the new NC3 architecture,” Hyten said. “I’m spending a lot of time now to make sure we understand, as we move into this new architecture, what it needs to do and can it still be cyber secure?”

Mattis has shown high interest in this program. When he visited Hyten in September at STRATCOM headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, “we probably spent half a day talking NC3,” Hyten said. “We’re going to have a plan this year.”

SpaceNews.com

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Mattis to decide future of nuclear command, control and communications

rId12_image4

WASHINGTON — The classified communications system that keeps the president connected to military forces during a nuclear event is being reviewed amid concerns that the technology is outdated and there is no clear plan to modernize it.

“Discussions are taking place at the secretary of defense and chairman levels,” said Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command.

Global Strike Command currently is in charge of the Air Force’s portion of the nuclear command, control and communications system, or NC3. The Air Force today is responsible for about 70 percent of the 62 air, space and ground systems that make up the NC3 and collectively provide secure, survivable and resilient communications for the president to issue nuclear orders.

What, if any, changes will be made to the NC3 organization is still unknown. During an Air Force Association event on Wednesday, Rand said he is not “completely privy” to the details of the ongoing review.

The effort is led by the director of operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Strategic Command. “STRATCOM will have a heavy role,” Rand said.

As of today, he said, “I continue to work within the governance that we have right now.” Rand is scheduled to retire this summer after more than 39 years of service.

The Air Force management of the NC3 has come under criticism. In a report last summer, the Government Accountability Office said the Air Force was making upgrades to the system “but it has not yet focused on long-term NC3 needs.”

The issue caught the attention of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review Mattis called for a review of the governance structure of the NC3 program and directed the Joint Staff to submit by May 1 a “plan to reform NC3 governance to ensure its effective functioning and modernization.”

Joint Staff spokesman Maj. Will Powell said the review is proceeding on schedule. “The Joint Staff is leading a planning team consisting of DoD NC3 subject matter experts and stakeholders in an effort to review and make recommendations on improvements to NC3 governance,” Powell said in a statement to SpaceNews. “Current planning efforts are on track to provide recommendations to the Secretary of Defense by May 1.”

The Nuclear Posture Review raised alarms about the state of the NC3 system. Networks that were on the cutting edge in the 1970s are now “subject to challenges from both aging system components and new, growing 21st century threats,” the NPR said. “Of particular concern are expanding threats in space and cyber space.”

The NC3 includes warning satellites and radars; communications satellites, aircraft, and ground stations; fixed and mobile command posts; and the control centers for nuclear systems. The NPR said many of these systems use antiquated technology that has not been modernized in almost three decades.

Ensuring the security of satellites that support classified nuclear communications and missile warning is a major concern because they are also used by the military in day-to-day operations. Some are specific to the nuclear mission, but most support both nuclear and conventional missions.

“Space is no longer a sanctuary and orbital space is increasingly congested, competitive and contested,” the NPR said. “A number of countries, particularly China and Russia, have developed the means to disrupt, disable, and destroy U.S. assets in space.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that modernizing the NC3 will cost $58 billion over 10 years.

The commander of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten told SpaceNews in a interview last month that he is spending a lot of time dealing with the future of NC3.

“This is an old system,” he said. But by virtue of being old and of being a “closed network” it’s also less vulnerable to cyber attacks than modern digital systems that are connected to the internet.

“It’s very resilient against threats, and I’m very confident it can handle anything today,” Hyten said. The problem is what happens a decade from now when the Defense Department starts rolling out the next generation of nuclear bombers, missiles and submarines. “They all are going to come in with a new command-and-control architecture” and will not be compatible with a communications network designed in the 1960s. “They will have modern technology and have to plug into the new NC3 architecture,” Hyten said. “I’m spending a lot of time now to make sure we understand, as we move into this new architecture, what it needs to do and can it still be cyber secure?”

Mattis has shown high interest in this program. When he visited Hyten in September at STRATCOM headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, “we probably spent half a day talking NC3,” Hyten said. “We’re going to have a plan this year.”

SpaceNews.com

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Another reason space is a battleground: Satellites will be key weapons in the fight against fake news

Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, speaks at New America, Washington, D.C. Credit: New America

Satellites that are “defendable” are critical to having a resilient network to pass relevant information, said Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.

WASHINGTON — The widely held view across the national security spectrum is that U.S. satellites in space must be protected because they will be day-one targets in a future war.

Pentagon officials frequently remind audiences of the critical space-based missions on which the military depends for most of its activities — navigation, timing, weather, missile warning, surveillance and communications.

But in the age of propaganda warfare and of weaponizing information, the United States also has to worry about defending space-based communications from bad actors who might hijack U.S. networks to spread false information, cautioned a senior U.S. military official.

Satellites that are “defendable” are critical to having a resilient network to pass relevant information, said Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.

During a discussion at the New America think tank on Monday, Wilson was asked by strategist and futurist Peter Singer to project a decade out, on what war would be like in 2028.

Wilson was emphatic that the U.S. military will need “resilient information networks” — not only for the obvious reason that forces in the field must have communications — but also to ensure enemies are not able to steer satellite signals for nefarious purposes. “The enemy will try to deny us,” Wilson said of satellite-based communications. One of their tactics would be to cast a fog so people will start “doubting the truthfulness of the information,” said Wilson. “They will weaponize the information.”

“Knowing what truth is will be important in the future,” Wilson said.

Debates about the future of war are not just about next-generation lethal weapons. The world is undergoing a “period of disruption,” said Wilson, “politically, economically, socially and technologically. That’s happening globally. Any single one of those areas alone is tough, but when you combine them it makes for exponential disruption.”

The mindset now in the Air Force is that, regardless how events unfold in the coming years, it has to be ready to move fast. “Speed wins,” said Wilson. That rule applies to training, development of new systems and “owning the high ground in space.”

Space is now at the center of military efforts to prepare for conflicts. “We’re having lots of space discussions across the nation,” said Wilson. “What’s really healthy about it is that we’re all in alignment: The White House, Congress, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, our allies, industry,” he said. “It’s a contested domain. We need to understand that. I need to have the ability to defend my assets in space. We‘re going to build a force that does that.”

Accelerating the acquisitions of modern space technology is a big topic, he said. “Lots of effort in that. There is keen interest in how we build capabilities faster, how do we partner with industry, how do I push down milestone decision authorities, use other transactions authorities.” OTA is a faster contracting mechanism that the Air Force is increasingly using in space projects.

Singer pressed Wilson to be more specific about the future makeup of military constellations. Will there be large numbers of small cheap satellites, or a small number of more capable, exquisite ones?

“Maybe both,” said Wilson.

These are complex decisions, he said. “Are you designing something to last for 20 years or something to last five years? There’s a big price point difference in how you do that.”

Wilson acknowledged that the military has been guilty of dragging out decisions and keeping programs in limbo. “Speed wins,” he said. “I have to compress the timeline.”

Wilson is a member of the panel of four-star general officers that vets big-ticket weapon programs known as the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. “We need to change how we do requirements, acquisition, contracting, budgeting and testing.” Today it can take five to eight years to do the analysis “before I get to a milestone decision,” he said. “That is way too long.”

Speaking also at the New America conference, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin echoed that point.

The Defense Department and national security agencies more broadly are being hit with a “cold water realization that we can either maintain our process or maintain our preeminence, but we can’t maintain both,” said Griffin. “Our adversaries are not burdened by the acquisition system we have.”

On the future space architecture, Wilson said, “we are getting buy-in and consensus across all our different departments on what that exactly looks like.” There will be mix of military and commercial systems, he said. “Look at what commercial is doing today.” Companies are putting up internet services in space and collecting intelligence using small, low-cost satellites. “We need to be a part of that,” said Wilson.

There is “no easy answer” on how to prepare for war in 2028, Wilson told Singer. “Adversaries are going to try and deny us the capabilities. Defending space is one of our big efforts.”

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U.S. military trying to be a player, not a bystander, in the new space race

Officials from Air Space Command speak to industry representatives at the Air Force Association’s annual symposium. Credit: U.S. Air Force

There is a growing ecosystem around space, government and entrepreneurship.

WASHINGTON — An online advertisement titled “Think big, take risks, innovate!” is not a self-help seminar but a call to entrepreneurs to come do business with the National Reconnaissance Office.

The NRO, whose mission is to design, build and launch classified spy satellites, wants to hear pitches from companies with “cutting edge technologies and high payoff concepts.” The NRO promises a “risk-tolerant environment to invest.”

By most accounts, the intelligence community is leading the way in “leveraging commercial” when it comes to space technology. The Defense Department, a much larger institution weighed down by arcane procurement methods, has been slower to act.

The U.S. Air Force, with control of 90 percent of the military’s space programs, insists it wants to move faster. It has laid out ambitious plans to replace legacy constellations with modern, more resilient systems, and to increase the use of commercial launch services to reduce costs and shorten schedules. It is also working more closely with the NRO.

In recent interviews with SpaceNews, industry executives and Air Force advisers said they see the military more interested than ever in what the private sector is doing in space. There is nonetheless a wide cultural gulf between “legacy” and “new space.”

Changing the military acquisition culture “has been a journey,” said Bill Gattle, president of Harris Corporation’s Space and Intelligence Systems. For many years, the government has developed its own technologies. Then commercial companies started coming in, offering satellite services and launch. “Initially the government didn’t believe it was possible,” Gattle said.

A significant marker for the national security space community was a 60 Minutes interview with senior Air Force officials in 2015 in which they articulated why space had become a new domain of warfare. “It was a revelation throughout the government that space is critical infrastructure,” said Gattle. “If you don’t have it, you can’t fight.” After that, “we saw a fundamental shift. DoD and the intelligence community started to partner very heavily and take this much more seriously,” he said. “The intelligence community and DoD partnerships have never been stronger in my career of more than 30 years.”

Just as space moved up the ladder as a military priority, commercial activity began to gather speed.

“Today feels like 1998, that was the last time we had the same level of enthusiasm with startups,” said Randy Kendall, vice president of launch program operations at The Aerospace Corporation, a government funded think tank that serves as a trusted adviser to the Air Force, NASA and the NRO.

The late 1990s hype about commercial space didn’t materialize as everyone had hoped, said Kendall. “The question I get a lot is ‘What’s different today?’”

The obvious difference is technology, he said. “It wasn’t there in the 90s, especially in small satellites, microelectronics, additive manufacturing. Cubesats can now do imagery and communications. And investors are putting up money.”

National security threats in space are also different, said Kendall. “So we need to be more agile and more responsive.”

Agile launch

A big buzzword in the industry is “agile launch.” Military launches can be anything but. They take months or years to plan. Kendall said a combination of technological advances, regulatory reforms and a push by senior leaders are driving change. He pointed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which soon will kick off a “launch challenge” hoping to attract innovators. DARPA believes the military must have fast-response launch services in case there is a conflict and satellites have to be deployed quickly.

To help the Air Force find emerging space technologies, Aerospace Corp. opened up a test lab where about 100 projects are now underway. One is a navigation system that uses RF signals and does not require GPS. Alternatives to the military’s Global Positioning System satellites are a priority as GPS satellites and signals could be targeted if the United States went to war against power rivals like China or Russia.

“We’re looking everywhere for ideas and technologies,” said Randy Villahermosa, director of innovation at Aerospace Corp. “We’re certainly bullish on the potential that lies in startups, in the entrepreneurial community.” As a technical adviser to the Air Force, “We’re in a great position to help both sides become more aware of the opportunities.”

The government has to understand that startups “live in a very precarious world,” said Villahermosa. “They’re worried about how they’re going to go to market, how they’ljl grow their business.”

The military is accustomed to hiring contractors to develop customized products. In the commercial world, it has to play by different rules. “How do we translate government problems so they look attractive to startups?” Villahermosa asked. “If I can reframe a problem in space so that it solves a problem you’re seeing in your market, that’s a win-win.”

There is a “growing ecosystem around space, government, entrepreneurship,” said Villahermosa. The Air Force is spending $100 million on a space industry consortium to help recruit commercial vendors and bring their ideas to the government. The Silicon Valley-based Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUX, also helps the military scout the market.

Hurdles for new companies

Aerospace CEO Steve Isakowitz came from the commercial space industry and is a big proponent of connecting the private sector with the Defense Department.

Technologies the military needs to modernize its space systems — nanosatellites, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, cloud computing — are moving fast, he said. “But how do we get from programs of record to the future vision?”

The military’s acquisition process and government regulations “can be a high hurdle for newer companies that don’t have the accounting system or the timeframe to deal with the uncertainties of the government market,” said Isakowitz. He sees a push from the top leadership of the Air Force to accelerate change. “I am anticipating Air Force announcements to streamline operations, make it easier for commercial firms and allies to contribute.”

The threat is growing, he said. “We need to demonstrate our ability to keep pace with that threat. And the Air Force understands that.”

Some commercial companies still see bias in the military toward in-house development. “Even when commercial technology is superior, there is a preference to do development work,” said William Broderick, chief financial officer of AGI, a supplier of space situational awareness software. “The Air Force wants to go fast in acquisition? There are available commercial capabilities. Why don’t they just buy them?”

Celeste Ford, CEO of Stellar Solutions – an aerospace consulting firm in Silicon Valley — said bridging “old and new space” is harder than it seems. “Legacy space was all government funded. The government said ‘jump’ and the industry said ‘how high.’” And government agencies also worry about protecting their jobs and budgets. “Now we have other sources of money in space that didn’t exist before.”

What worries DoD and the intelligence community is that if they don’t keep pace with the innovations in space, the United States could be at a disadvantage, said Ford. “It’s obvious that our adversaries have access to the same technologies we do. We need to plan for that.”

Tim Greeff, founder and CEO of the National Security Technology Accelerator, matches up government agencies with nontraditional contractors. Sometimes the problem is that government buyers don’t know how to work with companies that are not established government contractors, he said. Startups might respond to a call from a consortium, “and they never hear anything back.” Companies are not afraid of being told “no.” said Greeff, “but they need to know the opportunity is real.”

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Help wanted to operate and maintain Air Force deep space telescopes

The Air Force 21st Space Wing operates the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System in Maui, Hawaii. Credit: U.S. Air Force

Three sites provide nearly complete coverage of the Earth’s geosynchronous orbital belt and deliver nearly 80 percent of all geosynchronous observations.

WASHINGTON — The Air Force Space Command last week posted a “sources sought” notice for the operations and maintenance of a network of space staring telescopes known as the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System.

The Air Force is sizing up the market and not seeking bids yet. Responses are due April 23.

The notice came from the 21st Contracting Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The squadron is looking for help providing 16-hour-a-day, seven-day a week operations of GEODSS sites at Socorro, New Mexico; Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory; and Maui, Hawaii. A fourth GEODSS site in South Korea was closed in 1993.

According to the Air Force, the three sites provide nearly complete coverage of the Earth’s geosynchronous orbital belt and deliver nearly 80 percent of all geosynchronous observations. The data is sent to the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and to U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Intelligence Center at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

This is the military’s primary deep space tracking system. The first site at Socorro, at the White Sands Missile Range, started operation in 1982. The GEODSS uses nine large telescopes at the three locations to track objects by using reflected sunlight, so it can only operate on clear nights. It can likely detect objects as small as a half-meter in geosynchronous orbits.

The telescopes were upgraded in the mid-2000s under a program called Deep Stare. Analog sensors were replaced with digital focal plane arrays. The Air Force Space Command noted that the upgrade gave the GEODDS sites “some of the most accurate and sensitive optical telescopes in the world.” A fact sheet says the system can track objects as small as a basketball more than 20,000 miles away and is a “vital part of the AFSPC’s space surveillance network.”

Harris Corporation currently does contractor support work at all three GOEDSS sites. A one-year $8.5 million contract modification was awarded to the company May 2017 and runs through April 14.

An industry consultant who is familiar with the GEODSS said the maintenance and operation of these sites is labor intensive and “cumbersome logistically,” with facilities located in remote areas. “In my opinion, the Air Force ought to put all the GEODSS sites into a museum and just outsource the collection of ground based space situational awareness data to companies that are already doing this job well,” he said. “There is no reason why the collection of SSA data has to be done by the military.”

SSA efforts are drawing increased attention as space is now considered a battlefront. Having up-to-the-minute information on space objects would allow satellite operators fly spacecraft away from potential threats. The SSA task is becoming more complex with the proliferation of space junk orbiting the Earth.

The Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency developed a more advanced Space Surveillance Telescope to supplement the older systems. The SST is located at the White Sands Missile Range and operated by the Air Force Space Command and the Royal Australian Air Force to track space debris.

DARPA said the SST has moved space situational awareness from seeing only a few large objects at a time through the equivalent of a drinking straw, to a “windshield” view with 10,000 objects at a time, each as small as a softball. SST can search an area larger than the continental United States in seconds and survey the entire geosynchronous belt within its field of view — one quarter of the sky — multiple times in one night.

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Wilson: Space programs can move faster, but Congress has to tolerate some failures

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. Credit: U.S. Air Force

There is underlying tension between the “go big” philosophy embraced by Air Force senior leaders and skeptical lawmakers who would prefer a more cautious approach.

WASHINGTON — Space has been a major topic in Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s recent public appearances. She has pushed several messages: The Air Force budget makes “bold moves” in space. The future is all about “defendable space.” And this means developing “more capable, more defendable satellites.”

Congress for the most part is in agreement with the Air Force agenda. Funding for space programs was bumped by 8 percent in the 2018 defense budget. Appropriators approved most of what the Air Force wanted, and then some.

But there is still underlying tension between the “go fast” philosophy embraced by Trump administration officials and military leaders, and skeptical lawmakers who would prefer a more cautious approach.

Wilson’s take is that you can’t have it both ways. There is some risk involved in shifting money from the production of current designs into the development of next-generation satellites. But if Congress wants faster and innovative space programs, the tradeoff will be less predictability and possibly some failures.

“There is risk. It’s actually harder to go fast,” Wilson said on Friday at an Air Force Association event on Capitol Hill.

She will have to explain that to Congress in writing. The omnibus spending bill passed March 22 asks the Air Force for a detailed analysis of planned space procurements.

“There is a concern that the Air Force is about to embark on another near simultaneous recapitalization of its space architecture,” appropriators wrote.

New development programs are planned for space situation awareness; positioning, navigation, and timing; weather; missile warning; wideband communications, and protected communications. The bill directs the secretary of the Air Force to submit a report in 60 days to the congressional defense committees explaining the recapitalization plans for each major space system. The bill also asks her to “certify” that decisions to recapitalize versus continuing production of current designs “pose acceptable risks to constellation sustainment and the acquisition workforce, and considers budgetary constraints.”

The same language appeared in the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee markup in November.

Wilson said the risks are justified. “We will be very direct about it,” she said. “We will explain to Congress that they call experiments ‘experiments’ for a reason.”

Some projects will not work, “and you learn from them,” she said. “We recognize that some things will fail. … There will be off-ramps.”

Wilson believes the Air Force should embrace its cultural past, when it took big chances on technologies that paved the way for the weapons systems that are in service today. That mindset changed over the past couple of decades when attention shifted to “oversight and process,” she said. “We got away from those roots and we are going back to them in order to prevail in the 21st century.”

Wilson recalled that when the U.S. military decided to seize control of the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State in 2016, the decision was announced six months before the offensive started. That only can be done when you control the timing of an operation, she said. “In future wars we don’t expect we’ll be able to do that. If you have an adversary that is innovating rapidly,” things like oversight and process become less important than the actual capability, she added. “But we have to be able to do both.”

The scheme laid out by the Air Force, however, faces steep challenges. While everyone agrees that the Pentagon and the defense industry have to be more agile and build more resilient space systems, it is not clear that the government has set the conditions to make that happen, experts caution.

Former Air Force procurement official Claire Leon calls effort to accelerate space procurements a “daunting task.”

Leon, the former director of launch systems at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said it will be difficult to get away from acquisition processes that have been developed over the past 50 years. The procurement system was “designed for full coordination, not agility,” she told SpaceNews in a recent interview.

Leon agreed with Wilson that a lot of innovation happened in the 1960s and 70s because there was a “willingness to work through failures.” Today’s programs have become so big that they “can’t fail.”

Former Pentagon official Jamie Morin said the 2018 budget shows some willingness on the part of the Congress to embrace the Air Force’s space modernization strategy, but it remains to be seen how much leeway lawmakers will give.

“The Air Force clearly is making a serious effort to move to more rapid acquisition,” said Morin, who is executive director of the Center for Space Policy and Strategy and vice president of the Aerospace Corporation.

“When you embrace rapid speed you do tend to accept greater risk of variation from the plan,” Morin told SpaceNews. “We have seen that historically. But the question is ‘How do the Department of Defense and Congress react when the inevitable variations from the plan occur?’”

People now say they are willing to accept more risk in space acquisitions to get capabilities to the force faster. “But it’s one thing to say you accept risk in general versus accepting it in a specific program,” Morin said. The test will be when something goes wrong. “That’s the challenge they’ll face in the years ahead.”

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Goldfein: Air staff ‘excited’ about new three-star space commander

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. Credit: USAF

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Goldfein: It will be helpful to have a “forward based” vice commander of Space Command in Washington full-time.

WASHINGTON — The four-star general in charge of Air Force Space Command based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has made more than 30 trips to Washington so far this year.

Starting next month, things will change. Gen. John ‘Jay’ Raymond will spend less time traveling back and forth to D.C. and more time running Space Command. He will have a three-star deputy in the Pentagon doing the “lifting” for him, Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, told reporters at a breakfast meeting on Thursday.

Maj. Gen. David ThompsonMaj. Gen. David Thompson

Maj. Gen. David Thompson, formerly deputy commander of Space Command and most recently Raymond’s special assistant, next week will receive his third star and be sworn into the new position of vice commander of Air Force Space Command to be based in the Pentagon. The Senate confirmed his appointment last week.

“We’re pretty excited” to have Thompson as a “forward based” officer representing Space Command, said Goldfein. “I really need General Raymond focused on running his command.”

Having a three-star Space Command official at the Pentagon was not the Air Force’s original plan, however. A year ago the service announced it would name a three-star deputy chief of staff for space operations, the A11 on the air staff. Service leaders argued the A11 would make sure space received proper attention and resources. Thompson at the time was identified as the likely A11.

The idea did not go over well with congressional critics who saw the A11 as a weak attempt to demonstrate the service cared about space as much as it cared about its air mission. The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee was pushing to spin off space into a separate branch of the service, and members were put off by the idea that a deputy chief of staff was the Air Force’s answer to their concerns.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 eliminated the A11 position and directed the Pentagon to propose a different reorganization.

“We originally thought of the A11 as a model to follow as we had done with the A10 for the nuclear enterprise,” Goldfein said. “But Congress told us not to do that.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in January proposed the idea of a vice commander of Space Command based in D.C. This time Congress seemed more receptive.

Goldfein said Thompson is highly qualified, with a “deep background” in military space. “His responsibility will be to represent General Raymond” in all matters related to space programs, workforce and policies.  “Having a vice commander forward to take on that responsibility will be really helpful,” said Goldfein. “We are going to make sure he’s fully integrated in all functions and activities.”

Each air staff function — personnel, operations, planning, programming and others — will have “embedded space professionals, making sure we have the funding placed toward space procurements, space modernization,” Goldfein said. A panel under the A8 deputy chief of staff for programs and resources will be assigned the space portfolio.

“Thompson will help Raymond advance Air Force Space Command issues in D.C.,” Goldfein said. The Air Force is now “focused heavily on transitioning to space as a warfighting domain.”

In the 2019 budget request, “we are making some pretty bold moves in space,” he said. “It’s the largest increase in the space budget since 2003.”

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Air Force stakes future on privately funded launch vehicles. Will the gamble pay off?

The Vulcan Centaur rocket. Credit: ULA

Analyst Bill Ostrove: Vulcan’s first flight has slipped from 2019 to 2020. “The engine choice will affect the design of the entire rocket.”

WASHINGTON — The schedule is getting tight for the U.S. Air Force as a 2022 deadline looms to bid farewell to the Atlas 5 and switch to a different rocket that is not powered by a Russian engine.

The target date was mutually agreed by Congress and the Air Force in 2016, allowing what was considered sufficient time to find alternatives to the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 that uses the Russian RD-180 engine. The solution they settled on was for the Air Force to sign deals with the space industry to co-finance the development of new rocket propulsion systems.

The program known as the “launch service agreement” fits the Air Force’s broader goal to get out of the business of “buying rockets” and instead acquire end-to-end services from companies.

The Air Force signed cost-sharing partnerships with ULA, SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne. The original request for proposals noted the Air Force wants to “leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers.”

The next step is to select three companies this summer to move forward with enginet prototypes.

“We are on schedule to make LSA awards in July 2018,” a spokesman for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center told SpaceNews.

The selected competitors will face a schedule that seems ambitious even by the standards of commercial space companies.

ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno called the launch service agreement a “pretty rational” approach that puts the onus on the private sector.

As the operator of the Atlas 5 rocket, ULA will come under enormous scrutiny as it moves to develop its replacement, the Vulcan Centaur vehicle. Although the Atlas 5 will continue to be sold commercially, without the ability to offer Atlas 5 to the military after 2022, the future of ULA rests on Vulcan.

Which explains why there is so much anticipation about what engine ULA will select for the reusable first stage of the Vulcan Centaur. It is considering either the BE-4 made by startup Blue Origin or the AR-1 designed by established military contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne. The new first stage would be paired with the existing Centaur upper stage from the Atlas 5. A decision was expected months ago, and Bruno has said recently that it is “coming soon.”

Asked about the implications of the delayed engine selection on the LSA program, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center spokesman said officials would not comment on an ongoing source selection.

During a recent talk with reporters, Bruno predicted ULA would be able to meet the LSA timelines regardless of what engine is picked. From the government’s perspective, the risk lies in the fact that private industry is “bringing most of the money,” he said. “That’s always what governs a big complicated aerospace development program — being funded.”

The good news for the government is that there are multiple bidders, Bruno said. “That bodes well, that means the government has choices.”

Vulcan Centaur is 75 percent privately funded, Bruno said. To remain a contender in the LSA program, it needs to be ready for certification flights by 2020. ULA has agreed to two non-government flights to certify Vulcan for national security missions. The certification could happen as early as 2020 or early 2021.

“We feel very confident about our schedule and our plan to achieve that whole timeline,” he said.

The engine choice has kept the industry in suspense.

The Blue Origin engine is further along in development than the AR-1, although there are other issues to consider. “If we were to select AR-1 that puts more pressure on the schedule,” said Bruno. “But it does not necessarily invalidate the LSA requirements. I have much less schedule margin if I choose AR-1. But I could still meet the timelines.”

Some companies in the LSA program are partners and rivals at the same time. Orbital ATK will compete with its own rocket but it also has invested in the development of the Vulcan solid rocket booster. There is speculation that Blue Origin could also jump into the LSA fray with its New Glenn rocket.

“Having a competitor in my supply chain … Absolutely that is considered carefully,” said Bruno. “That is not unusual in our industry.” Orbital ATK is not only a competitor and major supplier to ULA but also a ULA customer for cargo missions to the International Space Station.

Orbital ATK has made a “substantial investment in developing that component for Vulcan,” he noted. “The supplier in this case is investing their own money. In exchange we give them a long-term contract that allows us to have stability in pricing.”

Blue Origin is investing a “considerable amount,” he said. “To a lesser degree Aerojet Rocketdyne is investing their own funding in AR-1.” The engines are the most expensive parts of the rocket, accounting for two-thirds of the cost of the booster.

Timeline too ambitious?

William Ostrove, aerospace and defense analyst at Forecast International, noted that ULA has been on the verge of picking a winner “for a long time.”

Vulcan’s first flight has slipped from 2019 to 2020, said Ostrove. “The engine choice will affect the design of the entire rocket. A decision has to be made if the Air Force is going to stick to the plan” of phasing out the Atlas 5 by 2022.

The delay could be adding risk to the Air Force LSA strategy, Ostrove said. For the program to succeed, launch contractors need to have both government and commercial business. “If there is no market for these large launch vehicles then the Air Force may have to step in and provide more funds.” That is exactly what the Air Force had to do more than a decade ago with Atlas 5 and Delta 4, which were originally intended as dual use.

A contrarian view comes from the defense industry establishment. Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute — a think tank that receives funding from ULA owners Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Aerojet and other defense firms — has called on the Air Force to keep the Atlas 5 and swap the RD-180 engine for Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 rather than develop a new launch vehicle.

“In an effort to save time and money, they accept greater risk,” Thompson told SpaceNews. “In an attempt to spur innovation, they turn to untested commercial products and practices. This approach was an utter failure in the 1990s, and yet we are gradually backing into the same errors again.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has expressed confidence in the LSA approach.

“We are cost sharing with companies as they develop alternatives to the Russian engine,” she told reporters last month on Capitol Hill. “We are doing that intentionally. We need a couple of options. It’s a risky business,” Wilson said.

The program is moving forward as planned, she said. “Usually if they haven’t walked in and said, ‘Houston we’ve got a problem,’ it means it’s continuing on, on schedule.”

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Omnibus spending bill funds big-ticket military communications satellites that DoD did not request

U.S. Air Force Wideband Global Satcom communications satellite. Credit: Boeing artist’s concept

The satellite communications industry was shocked to see a $600 million addition for WGS-11 and WGS-12.

WASHINGTON — In a surprise last-minute add-on, House appropriators included $600 million in the Air Force budget for two high-capacity communications satellites made by Boeing that the Pentagon did not request.

The omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 funds two Wideband Global SATCOM satellites, WGS-11 and WGS-12. The Air Force did not request funding for these spacecraft nor were these satellites included in any previous marks of the congressional defense committees, or in the fiscal year 2019 budget request.

This was a very large “out of cycle” addition, the consulting firm Jacques & Associates said in an email.

This action caught the satellite communications industry completely off guard. Commercial satellite services providers, particularly, had been told that the Pentagon would not buy any more WGS satellites beyond number 10. WGS-9 was deployed last year, and WGS-10 is scheduled for launch in 2019. Air Force and DoD officials had been talking for months about a plan to move forward with a “hybrid” architecture for future military communications that would include a mix of government-owned satellites and commercial services.

The appropriators justified the additional funds for “Wideband Gapfiller Satellites” as a necessary hedge, to ensure the Air Force is able to recapitalize multiple constellations that will require replacements in the coming decade — space situation awareness, positioning, navigation, and timing, weather, missile warning, wideband communications and protected communications. The bill directs the secretary of the Air Force to “provide a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act, that examines the recapitalization plans for the major systems noted above, certifies that decisions to recapitalize versus continue production of current designs pose acceptable risks to constellation sustainment and the acquisition workforce, and considers budgetary constraints.”

In another blow to commercial satellite providers, the bill cuts funding for the “analysis of alternatives” study that has been underway since 2016 to examine ways to bring more private-sector services into the military’s communications architecture. The bill slashes AOA funding for fiscal year 2018 from $14 million to $7 million.

The WGS constellation started out as a short-term project but grew over time. Boeing was selected to build the first two satellites in January 2002. The Pentagon at the time was planning a sophisticated new constellation called the Transformational Satellite Communications System. The TSAT was canceled in 2009 after years of cost overruns, and the WGS then became the military’s largest satcom system.

WGS is now a multinational system. Through multilateral agreements, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand provided funding for the WGS-9 satellite that launched in March 2017. The international partners receive a proportional share of the bandwidth provided by the WGS constellation based on their financial contribution.

The 2018 defense appropriation may be the one and only chance for Congress to add $600 million for two new satellites given how large of an increase the Pentagon is getting — $61 billion more than last year’s funding.

The House legislation provides $654.6 billion for the Department of Defense, including $589.5 billion in base funding and $65.2 billion for overseas wars. It is billed as the “largest year-to-year increase in base funding for the Department of Defense in 15 years.”

The bill increases funding for space programs by 8 percent.

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Some fresh tidbits on the U.S. military space budget

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson testifies before the House Armed Services Committee March 20. Credit: U.S. Air Force

In the aggregated account known as MFP-12 for national security space, the Defense Department requested $12.5 billion for fiscal year 2019.

WASHINGTON — On the question of how much money the Pentagon plans to spend on space programs in fiscal year 2019, different numbers have been floating around. Now we know for certain that the unclassified budget request for national security space is $12.5 billion.

That is what the Pentagon included in the aggregated account known as MFP-12. This is the “major force program” spending category for national security space. It is $1.1 billion higher than the MFP-12 request for fiscal year 2018.

The Air Force gets the majority of the funds — $11.4 billion. The remainder is for space programs run by the Army, the Navy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Having granular insight into the MFP-12 funding category is not easy, even for experienced number crunchers.

MFP-12 has about 98 program elements. Aerospace industry consultant Mike Tierney, of Jacques & Associates, was able to identify 77 lines from publicly available budget documents.

“The lines we can’t track are mostly support in nature — operations, maintenance, training, personnel — that support the trajectory of the major domain investments,” he told SpaceNews. “They are programs listed by name and PE number that only the Air Force or DoD have the insight on how much is being invested.”

The spending lines that defense and space contractors most care about are investments. The Air Force has $8.5 billion in its space budget for research, development and procurement of new systems.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has characterized the 2019 space budget request as a “bold move” that the service made in order “to be able to deter, defend and prevail against anyone who seeks to deny our ability to freely operate in space,” she told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

The president’s budget reflects an 18 percent increase over the five-year defense plan, she said, “and that is on top of a 6 percent increase that we presented in the fiscal year 2018 defense plan, to accelerate defendable space.”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, has chided Air Force leaders frequently for under-funding space accounts.

At the Tuesday hearing, Rogers mentioned that the Air Force’s “unfunded requirements” list included $351 million for space items. “If in fact space has this enhanced priority status within the Air Force, why are those $351 million worth of requirements unfunded?” he asked Wilson.

Her answer: “What we have done in our unfunded priorities list is to accelerate things that are already in our five-year plan.” Lawmakers occasionally ask defense officials to list what they would buy if Congress gave them more money. “The answer is we would accelerate what is already in our five-year plan and that was in three areas. The first was space. The second was nuclear modernization. And the third was military construction.”

Rogers still was not satisfied. “In your opening statement, you made reference to the fact that there was an 18 percent increase over the five-year defense plan. But yet, there is only a 6 percent increase proposed for the 2019 budget. I would really like to see those numbers reversed at least for the 2019 budget. I think more than 6 percent would be a better illustration of priority status.”

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Air Force is spending more on space, but modernization path still a big question

Gen. Jay Raymond, Air Force Space Command commander, speaks to the Air Force Information Technology and Cyberpower Conference in Montgomery, Ala., Aug. 28, 2017. Credit: U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON — In its budget proposal for the coming year, the U.S. Air Force is trying to send the same message to foreign adversaries and critics at home: the service definitely is not underestimating threats the United States and its allies face in space.

“The Air Force’s FY-19 budget accelerates our efforts to deter, defend and prevail against anyone who seeks to deny our ability to freely operate in space,” Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, said in a statement.

The unclassified space budget the Air Force unveiled in February includes $8.5 billion for investments in new systems — $5.9 billion in the research and development accounts, and $2.6 billion for procurement of satellites and launch services, according to a service official. The 2019 request is 7.1 percent more than the Air Force sought for 2018. Over the next five years, the Air Force projects to invest $44.3 billion in space systems — $31.5 billion in research and development, and $12.8 billion in procurement. That would mark an 18-percent increase over the $37.5 billion five-year plan submitted last year.

And there are additional space-related investments in the black world. “We know that classified spending is increasing, and that bodes well for space overall,” said Doug Berenson, managing director of the consulting firm Avascent.

Avascent estimates the Pentagon budgeted $48.7 billion for classified systems in 2019, compared to $43 billion in 2017. Congress has not yet appropriated funding for 2018, so Avascent compared the new proposal with 2017 levels. The classified budget includes aircraft, cybersecurity, electronic warfare and other items. Berenson believes that space is probably the biggest single category.

By Avascent’s calculation, unclassified space spending for 2019 total $7.3 billion, or $1.2 billion less than the Air Force’s number. Berenson said the difference is probably due to the Air Force counting ground-based equipment associated with space systems that Avascent includes in the C4ISR category.

Industry consultant Mike Tierney of Jacques & Associates also crunched the numbers and came up with a lower space total than the Air Force: $7.68 billion.

“There are multiple numbers floating around,” he said, noting the Air Force total and a $7.88 billion estimate for the broader unclassified DoD space budget “is what we can track back to what is publicly available.”

Late last week, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told Congress that a total of $12.5 billion is in the president’s 2019 budget request “to take steps to establish a more resilient, defendable space architecture.” A DoD spokesman did not respond to questions on what is included in the $12.5 billion figure.



At a time when the Air Force is under political pressure to show it cares about space, “how you count is a non-trivial issue,” said Berenson. He noted that since 2017, when unclassified spending on space was under $5 billion, the 2019 proposal represents a 48 percent increase. “It’s a small baseline but a big jump,” said Berenson. “With the push on the national defense strategy to prepare better for peer competitors and contested warfighting domains, they want to spend a lot more on next-generation space and harden the existing capabilities.”

The new space budget shifts funding from the procurement of satellites to research and development. Most of the $2.5 billion space procurement account — down from $3.4 billion a year ago — is for big-ticket launches under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The Air Force is seeking nearly $1.8 billion for five launches, which averages $360 million per launch. The budget also provides $245 million for research and development towards a new rocket engine.

The pivot is most noticeable in the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) program, the satellite constellation that monitors missile launches around the world. The Air Force increased R&D for a new missile-warning constellation from $71 million to $643 million. It ends procurement of SBIRS satellites beyond No. 5 and 6, which already are in production at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. The SBIRS procurement account plummets from $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2018 to $138 million in 2019. Research and development for a next-generation system gets a boost from $382 million to $703 million.

The Air Force also is transitioning the Global Positioning System. The plan is to start a new program to succeed the block of GPS 3 satellites currently in production by Lockheed Martin. The Air Force intends to select a new design and seek new competitors. The budget adds more money for future GPS 3 research and development — from $1 billion to $1.4 billion — and cuts procurement from $101 million to $85 million.

The Air Force is boosting R&D for protected satellite communications. Research on a future replacement for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellation is getting a big bump from $315 million to $677 million, whereas procurement goes down from $138 million to $91 million. Four satellites have been delivered by Lockheed Martin, and two more are in production.

The budget funds the 10th and final Wideband Global SATCOM satellite. The 2019 request includes nearlu $50 million to complete the Air Force Commercial Satellite Communications Pathfinder projects, which are exploring ways to work with commercial fleet operators to reduce cost and improve satcom resilience.

Berenson cautioned that the Air Force moving money out of procurement into R&D should not be read as a sign of some radical change in direction. “Programs have ebbs and flows” as satellites age and new ones have to be developed. “That’s likely the case with navigation satellites and evolved SBIRS,” he said. “A lot of this is about existing programs.”

The takeaway is that the Air Force “hasn’t yet figured out what its next generation of major space procurements is really going to look like,” said Berenson. “They are still trying to figure how much money they are really going to have long term. The 2019 budget is a big increase but it’s not going to go on forever. They’re trying to get a handle on what they can expect.”

Another issue for DoD is how to work differently with the private sector, said Berenson. “There is so much dynamism in this industry. New players are disrupting the market and coming up with new concepts on how to provide capabilities, he said. “I’m not sure the department is yet in a position to describe the end-to-end plan for what they are going to be acquiring. They are still working on what the architecture ought to look like.”

Raymond noted in his statement that increased spending in R&D shows a deliberate effort to move to next-generation systems.

“We are demonstrating our commitment to innovation, rapid acquisition and to building more defendable, resilient and capable space systems,” he said.

“We ultimately seek to deter a conflict that extends into space. However, we must be ready to fight and win if deterrence fails.”

This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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Defense official: Trump is serious about creating a space force

President Trump signs an executive order. Credit: White House

Rep. Mike Rogers: “I am so excited to have the support of President Trump as we work towards this goal” of creating a space force.

WASHINGTON — After President Trump told Marines in California that he believed the U.S. military should have a space force, there was confusion. Was he serious? Was it an off-the-cuff riff? And why would he endorse an idea adamantly opposed by his own Defense Department?

The president apparently was not joking.

“He is very interested in ensuring that the department is best organized and equipped to achieve our vital missions in space,” Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, told lawmakers on Thursday.

Rapuano testified at a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces on the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for national security space rograms.

Also at the witness table were Gen. John ‘Jay’ Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, and Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who has led a congressional push to create a space corps, was visibly giddy. “I am so excited to have the support of President Trump as we work towards this goal and look forward to making it a reality in the near future,” he said.

Then Rogers pressed Rapuano to explain how the Pentagon plans to “implement the president’s direction.”

Rapuano said a reorganization of the military’s space component is being studied, as required by legislation passed last year. He said Trump would support any option that provides an adequate solution to the problem. “The president is very focused on outcomes,” he said. “He has prioritized space. He recognized the threats that have evolved, and the pace at which they evolve. He’s very interested in exploring any options that can provide enhanced capabilities.”

A review of how space forces might be organized is being led by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. “The assessment of the space corps is one of those options that is getting close attention, among others,” said Rapuano. Shanahan will submit recommendation to lawmakers in August.

Rogers suggested that Trump’s endorsement of a space force essentially validates what his committee has been trying to do. “This hearing could not have come at a better time,” he said. “The Air Force has a lot of challenges in dealing with national security space.”

The United States faces “strategic competitors” in space, said Rogers. “Like they say in Alabama: If you can’t roll with the big dogs you should stay on the front porch.”

Rogers approved of the Air Force’s actions to increase spending on space systems and to start transitioning legacy satellites to more resilient constellations. “However, I still have concerns about the Air Force’s ability to move quickly and get the space segment, ground segment, and terminals all delivered on time and on schedule. I also remain concerned about the prioritization of space programs across the DoD and within the Air Force.”

But he complained that the Air Force’s wish list of “unfunded priorities” includes more than $350 million in space programs. “That’s really my biggest frustration. We’ve heard Air Force leaders talk about the increasing threats we face in space and declare that space is a priority mission. Yet, when the rubber meets the road, we see space programs given a backseat behind other Air Force programs. I didn’t see a lot of air dominance programs on that unfunded list.”

Given the president’s remarks on Tuesday, he said, “I anticipate that the department will accelerate its plans to embrace the formation of an independent space force.”

The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper, of Tennessee, has been in lockstep with Rogers on this issue. He has made a point in the past that the space corps enjoys bipartisan support. “Note the excellent attendance by our Democratic colleagues,” he said at the hearing.

Most of the members, however, decided to save their questions for a classified session after the public hearing.

Raymond defended the Air Force’s efforts to put an “increased focus on space superiority.” He said the budget funded new capabilities, training and testing. “We still have the best space capabilities in the world,” Raymond said. “We have competitors that are moving very quick and we have to pick up the pace to stay ahead of that threat.” He noted the Air Force increased space funding by $7 billion over the next five years.

Rogers asked Raymond to submit a report explaining whether he has the resources he needs.

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Trump: U.S. should have a ‘space force’

President Trump speaks at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, March 13, 2018.

“We have the Air Force. We’ll have the Space Force,” Trump said in a speech to U.S. Marines in San Diego.

WASHINGTON — An idea that the Pentagon has long opposed — creating a separate military service dedicated to space warfare — suddenly is back in the headlines after President Trump endorsed it in a speech on Tuesday.

Addressing a military audience at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in San Diego, Trump boasted about his national security strategy, plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, develop hypersonic weapons, and his proposed increases to military budgets. Trump also made extensive comments about space and the possibility that the United States will need a “space force” to fight enemies that threaten U.S. access to space.

“In space, the United States is going to do Colonel Glenn proud,” said Trump, invoking Astronaut John Glenn who was a Marine Corps pilot. “We are finally going to lead again. … We’re going to lead the way in space.”

Trump noted that his administration’s national strategy “recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea. We may even have a Space Force.” If the United States has to fight in space, developing a Space Force would make sense, he said. “We have the Air Force. We’ll have the Space Force. We have the Army, the Navy. “

Trump suggested that when he first thought of creating a Space Force, he wasn’t really serious. “Then I said ‘what a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that. That could happen. That could be the big breaking story.’”

But the president may not have been aware that the idea of a military branch dedicated to space is not new. In fact it has been championed for a long time by members of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. And it’s one of the few issues in the House that gets bipartisan support. A provision in the House version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act required the Air Force to spin off a separate department focused on space. The bill passed the House but didn’t have enough votes in the Senate. And it was fiercely opposed by the Air Force and the Pentagon. The law directed the Defense Department to hire an independent think tank to study the issue. The Air Force manages most of the military’s space programs and has come under criticism from lawmakers for short-changing space programs.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has temporarily taken over duties overseeing military space. Strategic forces subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers and ranking Democrat Jim Cooper have said the Space Corps debate will continue in the 2019 NDAA. They predict it could take three to five years to make it happen.

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Air Force changing how it buys weapons and satellites, but software still a headache

William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, testifies in front of the House Armed Services Committee March 7, 2018.

Roper: In space we will experiment with doing things differently and more commercially.

WASHINGTON — William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing Wednesday that congressional efforts to speed up the Pentagon’s lethargic procurement process are making a difference. But there are still problem areas that laws alone can’t fix.

Testifying alongside the acquisition executives of the Army and the Navy, Roper credited the committee for recognizing the severity of the Pentagon’s modernization crisis. “Technologies our government must develop — like hypersonics and directed energy — have slowed compared to other nations like China,” he said. “It is no wonder fundamental changes to how the department designs, acquires and sustains our military are a focus of this committee.”

Each of the defense policy bills Congress passed since 2016 pushed aggressive reforms, and some appear to be gaining traction. Roper said Air Force program managers are taking advantage of new authorities to experiment with commercial technologies and use expedited contracting arrangements. He said development and acquisition should evolve into a “contact sport of doing, failing, learning and refining.”

The age-old adage “fly before you buy” remains relevant as the Air Force moves to modernize aviation and space systems. “Prototyping is the natural bridge between new technology and programs of record and is the appropriate place for new concepts to ‘fly or die,’” Roper said.

In space, he said, “We will experiment with doing things differently and more commercially.”

Concerns about the Air Force lagging in space modernization has led to a massive review of the entire space procurement organization.

Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said things have to change. Speaking on Tuesday at the McAleese Credit Suisse defense programs conference, Selva recalled being in Silicon Valley just over a year ago and visiting a company that built and launched into orbit a satellite the size of a 55-gallon drum within 18 months. “It took another three months to start making money,” he said. By contrast, “Our average timeline from requirements to fielded satellites is 144 months. That is not expedient deployment of technology.”

Roper in his testimony said the Space and Missile Systems Center is making greater use of “other transactions” agreements to expedite projects. The Space Enterprise Consortium uses OTAs to attract non-traditional defense contractors for space-related prototyping. “I look forward to expanding the practice across our enterprise,” said Roper.

But buying software remains an uphill battle for the Air Force. “Software acquisition continues to lead to overruns,” Roper said. “What frustrates me is that we have software almost in every system that we build. But none of it is common, none of it is recycled. When we look at commercial industry, the same software is resident everywhere.”

In prepared testimony submitted to the committee, Roper said the Defense Department’s approach to software acquisition trails industry standards. Of major Air Force acquisitions exceeding their original cost baselines, the majority (five of nine) are software developments and two are key space programs. They include the GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System, the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System Increment 2, Defense Enterprise Accounting/Management System, the Air Operations Center Weapon System Increment 10.2 and Mission Planning System Increment 5.

There are specialized technology cells such as the Air Force Digital Service that are brought in to apply modern software development to struggling programs. But that is not a sustainable solution. “Reforming software acquisition is a top priority for me and the Air Force,” Roper noted. He said a key goal is to train and educate the workforce so it can make better buying decisions.

The next-generation GPS ground control software, known as OC-X, ranks among the most troubled acquisitions in recent memory, experts have noted. The original contractor bid was $800 million. “We’re at $6 billion and counting on that program,” said Roper’s predecessor Bill LaPlante, senior vice president of the MITRE Corporation.

“We have a lot of heavy lifting to do” in acquisition reforms, LaPlante said at a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies conference. “We’ve allowed ourselves to get into this paralysis.”

CSIS defense and aerospace analyst Todd Harrison said the Pentagon’s lagging innovation in space compared to the private sector means competitors like China are “trying to catch up to SpaceX, not the U.S. military.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, speaking at the McAleese conference, said the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal shows the service is serious about changing. “We are moving to an accelerated, more agile missile warning set of satellites. We are developing close partnerships with the National Reconnaissance Office,” Wilson said. “The United States has been dominant in space for a long time. But we built a glass house before the invention of stones. We’re being threatened. And we have to deal with that in the changing of our doctrine, training and programs.”

Wilson said the nomination of a new three-star vice commander of Space Command based in the Pentagon was intended to help expedite decision-making and move programs faster. The four-star commander of Air Force Space Command is based Colorado Springs. “He spends a heck of a lot of time going back and forth to Washington D.C.,” said Wilson. “We’re making significant changes in space to recognize it is a contested domain, that requires a lot of talking with a lot of people. It requires a lot of change in the way we are managing programs and training our people.”

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DoD delivers report to Congress on space reforms: Air Force acquisition system a big problem

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks with staff members before a National Space Council meeting at the John F. Kennedy Space Center Feb. 21, 2018. Credit: DoD

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan provided lawmakers an interim report on upcoming space reforms.

WASHINGTON — In a report to the congressional defense committees last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan provided lawmakers a preview of how the department plans to reorganize onational security space programs and offices.

This interim report submitted March 1 was directed by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. An updated report is due August 1. The final report due Dec. 31 has to be written by a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, and will look at how to establish a separate military department responsible for national security space. This so-called “space corps” provision is the most controversial piece of the NDAA space reforms, and is likely to become a contentious point of debate in the upcoming 2019 NDAA deliberations.

Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told SpaceNews that the interim report is as comprehensive as can be expected given the short deadline. President Trump signed the NDAA in December.

“We were not given much time to prepare this report, but we delivered it on time,” Davis said.

The report is highly critical of the current acquisition system for space systems. It points out that today’s processes slow down modernization at a time when U.S. access and use of space capabilities are being threatened by foreign adversaries.

“The biggest challenge we face is the acquisition system, which needs to improve dramatically,” Davis noted.

“Congress has diagnosed the problem correctly,” he said, “and we are making significant changes already on space throughout the government, and within DoD.”

The 2018 NDAA calls for changes in the management of military space components — most of which are controlled by the U.S. Air Force — out of frustration that space priorities are not being adequately addressed. Since passage of the NDAA, Shanahan has disestablished the position of the principal DoD space adviser, which was previously held by the Secretary of the Air Force. He disestablished the Defense Space Council, and extended the term of the commander of Air Force Space Command to six years. He also established the Air Force Space Command commander as a Joint Force Space Component Commander under U.S. Strategic Command, and designated the Operationally Responsive Space office as the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

Speeding up the acquisition process will require a sweeping review of how the Space and Missile Systems Center does business. SMC is a huge organization based in Los Angeles that oversees most space procurements. “The Air Force must return to a focused adoption of new technologies for game-changing capabilities,” says the DoD report. “This focus must be built into the space acquisition culture, and the workforce must be given freedom to execute with a sense of urgency and ownership.”

In its current form, SMC “does not manage space systems as an enterprise,” but instead is product-aligned into four mission areas; Precision, Navigation, & Timing, Military Satellite Communications, Remote Sensing, and Space Control/Space Situational Awareness.

“This structure creates natural barriers to developing alternative ideas, exploring different concepts, and ultimately, providing competitive forces to create substantial improvements in speed, cost, and performance,” the report says.

SMC should be “re-architected,” the report says, so it can operate as an “enterprise.” This is important as the United States enters a “strategic competition with China and Russia in space.”

DoD will review options for “promoting a family of space systems as part of a space portfolio plan,” the report says. One of the issues that will be probed is whether avoiding “unique mission platforms” will lower acquisition costs and speed delivery timelines.”

The department also will review the industrial base for space “with an eye toward increasing innovation and reducing risk,” the report says. “Currently, the industrial base for space is fragmented and underutilized. The department will seek a new mix of industry and academic partners to dramatically improve DoD space capabilities.”

The report acknowledged that there is “much work to be done over the next five months” when the next update is due to Congress.

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DARPA sees clear path to faster, cheaper space technology

DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program seeks to develop less expensive launch technology for small satellites. Credit: DARPA

DARPA Director Steven Walker: “Space is going to be one of my priorities.”

Dr. Steven H. WalkerDr. Steven H. Walker

WASHINGTON — The commercial space industry can mass produce satellites that are small but quite sophisticated for the price. And launch vehicles are getting better and cheaper by the day.

So it only makes sense for the U.S. military to ride that wave, said Steven Walker, the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DARPA was created 60 years ago as an antidote to the stubbornly inflexible system the military uses to develop and acquire technology. The agency now sees an opportunity to flex its disruptive muscles in space programs.

“Space is going to be one of my priorities,” Walker said Thursday at a defense writers breakfast meeting.

Walker agrees with recent Pentagon and intelligence community assessments that outer space has become more militarized and U.S. satellites are vulnerable. This is a reality that DARPA predicted long before the Pentagon officially recognized space as a potential battlefront.

“DARPA four or five years ago moved that discussion further along and we brought it to the attention of senior leadership all the way to the White House,” Walker said. It was clear that “space was changing, that things were getting very contested and that the U.S. needed some programs to counter it.”

Many of the technologies being developed for space warfare are classified. But DARPA has been vocal about the need to get the Pentagon to become less dependent on large, complex satellites in geostationary earth orbit. Walker said it’s time for DoD to shift future spending to constellations in low earth orbit made up of dozens or hundreds of small satellites.

Both DoD and the commercial sector have “very exquisite satellites,” he said. They are high-performance systems but cost too much, and take too long to build and launch, Walker added. “We have been saying this for 10 years: We want to see a shift to LEO, get capabilities in larger constellations.” The more satellites in the system, the harder it will be for the enemy to take it down, the thinking goes.

Larger constellations can be used for multiple missions, Walker said, and they could even “enable a battle management system for tactical war fighting on the ground,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for a while” but only recently have these ideas been taken more seriously.

The challenge from peer competitors is increasing but the technologies that could help cope with threats are advancing, he said. “We have pretty capable small satellites.”

DARPA has invited companies to pitch ideas under a program called Blackjack. “We are looking at how we leverage the commercial sector at LEO, how we leverage the manufacturing of smaller cheaper satellite buses, and looking at how we put our payloads into those more affordable buses,” Walker said.

Commercial buses for military payloads

In a FedBizOpps announcement, DARPA asked for “innovative proposals” for low cost, mass reproducible space payloads and satellite buses. Interested contractors are invited to a briefing at the agency March 15.

DARPA wants “commoditized satellite buses capable of hosting military payloads.” The renaissance of commercial space, said the Blackjack solicitation, “has led to the design of numerous LEO constellations whose design and manufacturing methodologies potentially offer economies of scale previously unavailable.”

The intent of the Blackjack program is to “demonstrate a distributed low earth orbit constellation that provides global persistent coverage with a total cost of ownership that is less than a single exquisite satellite.”

Each satellite is envisioned to cost, including launch, less than $6 million.

Walker said the Air Force is enthusiastic about the project. The service has been criticized for not moving fast enough to modernize space systems. Walker said that, in fairness, large organizations like the U.S. military services excel at what they do and are “wedded to the way they’ve always done business.” DARPA was created to be “disruptive of that mindset and a partner at the same time,” he said. “We find that is much more effective.”

The Blackjack concept is “getting a lot of traction, especially in the Air Force,” said Walker. “I’m encouraged that we’re going to move in that direction together.”

Separately from the Blackjack project, DARPA officials plan to brief contractors March 5 on the “future of space.” The meeting is being billed as a discussion on “how to technologically and culturally disrupt the space enterprise, from the ground up,” and how to bring about the “End of Battlestar Galactica.”

The idea is to get both the military and contractors to think differently about space capabilities, said an advisory sent to companies in advance of the meeting. The Pentagon’s “risk-adverse processes incentivize performance over cost and schedule, further exacerbating the pursuit of monolithic, everything-to-everyone solutions.”

The current defense space architecture is “expensive, vulnerable, and technologically aging,” said the advisory. “Historically, large launch costs have resulted in exquisite designs of capable, large platforms to better justify the high launch costs.” Now is the time for the Department of Defense to “examine our enterprise.”

Walker said he is encouraged by the appointment of former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. Having someone in that position with an extensive background in aerospace and missile defense is critical as the United States faces competition from China and Russia in space and advanced weapons technology like hypersonic missiles, Walker said. “I am told that this is going to be one of his top priorities.”

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Chairman Rogers: Space corps needed more than ever, Air Force ‘in denial’

Rep. JIm Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies with moderator Todd Harrison. Credit: CSIS

Rogers: While China and Russia continue to challenge the United States in space, the Air Force appears to be more interested in fighting Congress rather than dealing with the enemy.

WASHINGTON — The chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee ripped U.S. Air Force leaders for not taking threats in space seriously and for their continued resistance to reform.

Speaking on Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Rep. Mike Rogers and the subcommittee’s top Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper presented a united front, criticizing the Air Force for stalling legislative changes that Congress passed last year to reorganize military space programs and accelerate the development of next-generation technologies.

While China and Russia continue to challenge the United States in space, the Air Force appears to be more interested in fighting Congress rather than dealing with the enemy, Rogers said.

Both Rogers and Cooper sounded angrier and more frustrated with the Air Force than they were even a few months ago when they inserted language in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to create a separate space corps within the Air Force.

Rogers also was peeved that no Air Force officials showed to speak at the CSIS conference titled “Strategic National Security Space.” The event was billed as a high-level dialogue on military space and on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019.

“I’d like to see them here today to explain what they are going to do. They chose not to be here,” said Rogers. He noted that the Air Force has yet to communicate its plans to execute what the NDAA requires. “It’d be nice to know what they’re going to do,” he said.

Conference organizers told SpaceNews that several Air Force and DoD officials were invited to speak but claimed they had scheduling conflicts.

Space corps language

The space corps provision in the 2018 NDAA passed the House but didn’t have enough votes in the Senate. The law still directs the Defense Department to hire an independent think tank to study the issue. The Air Force lost some oversight  over space budgets but essentially kept its authorities to organize, train and equip space forces. “We gave them what they asked for,” Rogers said. “They wanted more money and they got it.”

Cooper said space is a rare issue where a Republican and a Democrat are in complete agreement. “We are bipartisan. Still working on bicameralism.” The Senate did not spend enough time debating this topic and that is one reason why the space corps language was rejected. “Hopefully that will be corrected in the coming session,” said Cooper.

Rogers estimated that organizing a space corps could take from three to five years.

He said he is especially disappointed by the Air Force not showing enthusiasm or bringing forward ideas for how to modernize faster. The committee was shocked to learn more than a year ago that China had become “our peer” in space and Russia a “near peer” competitor, he said. “That’s unacceptable that we’ve allowed that to happen,” he said. “It’s essential to have space capabilities to win wars. It wasn’t like that before. And we’ve allowed our capabilities to atrophy.”

This problem “can’t be fixed within the Air Force the way it is structured now,” said Rogers.

Cooper then went on to list a litany of examples of Air Force coming up short in space: Forty years of relying on a Russian rocket engine, technical jobs at the Space and Missile Systems Center have not been filled in decades, generals with space backgrounds don’t get promoted.

Air Force leaders lost credibility, Cooper said, when during discussions with the committee they brought up uniform designs and issues like whether members of the space corps would be called “airmen.” These are trivialities, Cooper said. “What matters is capability, and the speed of acquisition.”

Air Force championing space

Air Force officials in recent months have stepped up the rhetoric on space threats, announced reforms in acquisition programs and proposed a larger budget for space. They have argued that a space corps would be counterproductive because it would divide the Air Force, rather than integrate space into mainstream operations.

The chief of the Air Force went as far as to tell airmen that they need to start thinking about space superiority the same way they think about air superiority.

None of this has impressed Rogers. “They need to do a lot more,” he said. Adding more money to the space budget is not going to appease lawmakers. “That’s the Air Force trying to get us to leave them alone,” he said. “Is it going to work? No.”

Money is still a problem, he said. “We have found over the years the Air Force used the space budget as a money pot to fund the air dominance program.” Granted that Congress has not helped with the budget in general, “that doesn’t mean you starve to death one of your subordinate missions to feed another mission you view as more important,” Rogers said. “That is why space capabilities have atrophied.”

Rogers doesn’t believe the Air Force can change its air-centric culture. “They are so indoctrinated to the way they do things. With a space corps, we can start with a clean sheet.”

Cooper said he found it “stunning that an aging and perhaps sclerotic power thinks of its own convenience ahead of everything else. We have got to get our heads in the game.” If U.S. satellites came under attack, “We could be deaf, blind and dumb within seconds,” he said. “Seldom has a great nation been so vulnerable. The Air Force should rise to the challenge and take this as seriously as we do.”

The private sector has picked up the innovation slack in space, Cooper noted. “I’m personally embarrassed that we need a couple of billionaires to make our launch more affordable,” he added. “Historians will not be kind when they look back at this period.”

Rogers agreed. “It is bad,” he said of U.S. vulnerabilities in space. “The Air Force needs to come out of denial and work with instead of fight us and keep us from meddling in this issue. We have a job to do vigorous oversight. If we find any service is not getting its job done it’s our job to get after it.”

Rogers and Cooper both complimented Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who was named the interim principal space adviser to the secretary of defense, a title previously held by the secretary of the Air Force.

“There are people in DoD that agree with us,” Cooper said. “I’m particularly proud that Shanahan gets us. Even some people get it in the Air Force.”

“I have confidence in Deputy Secretary Shanahan,” said Rogers. “We are in regular contact with him.”

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Falcon 9 launch to wait until after Atlas 5 mission

An Atlas 5 launches the GOES-R weather satellite in November 2016. A similar launch of the GOES-S satellite remains on schedule for March 1 after the Air Force decided not to support a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch earlier the same day. Credit: United Launch Alliance

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The U.S. Air Force has decided not go ahead with a proposal to support two launches from the Eastern Range in less than 24 hours this week, but officials say being able to do so remains a goal as part of efforts to support increased launch activity.

The possibility of two launches taking place in one day from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station emerged earlier this week when SpaceX proposed rescheduled a delayed Falcon 9 launch of the Hispasat 30W-6 communications satellite for shortly after midnight Eastern time March 1. That would have been less than 17 hours before the previously scheduled launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying the GOES-S weather satellite at 5:02 p.m. Eastern that day.

While there was no formal announcement of plans to reschedule the Falcon 9 launch for March 1, it was under active consideration. The Federal Aviation Administration published on its website Feb. 27 a temporary flight restriction for airspace around Cape Canaveral that coincided with the time that Falcon 9 launch would have taken place March 1.

However, the Air Force announced late Feb. 27 that the only launch scheduled for March 1 remained the Atlas 5 launch, with the Falcon 9 launch date still to be determined. “Range safety is the top priority, thus every launch requires the appropriate amount [of] analysis along with deliberate and disciplined discussions with the 45 SW team and key stakeholders,” the 45th Space Wing, which operates the Eastern Range, said in a statement.

Industry sources said that the Air Force strongly considered allowing the back-to-back launches, but concluded there were too many open questions that could not be resolved in time to allow the Falcon 9 launch to take place so close to the Atlas 5 launch. That included concerns about potential exposure of the Atlas 5 on its pad to the Falcon 9 launch, taking place just a few kilometers away.

“We were doing an initial assessment of being in an exposed condition,” said Tim Dunn, NASA launch director for the GOES-S mission, during a pre-launch press conference at the Kennedy Space Center Feb. 27. “Obviously, we would need some time to take a look at that to assess all the risks that would be incurred on GOES-S as well as the Atlas 5 rocket.”

SpaceX had planned to launch the Falcon 9 early Feb. 25, but postponed the launch because of a fairing pressurization issue. The company said in a statement late Feb. 27 that the problem had been resolved and that it was awaiting a new launch date.

The ability to support two launches within 24 hours is a goal of the 45th Space Wing’s efforts to support higher launch demand from sites on the Eastern Range. The wing has been promoting an initiative called “Drive to 48” to be able to support 48 launches a year. That goal is based on average of one launch per week for 48 weeks, with two two-week maintenance periods.

Part of that effort is being able to handle two launches in one day, said Air Force Col. Z. Walter Jackim, vice commander of the 45th Space Wing, during a luncheon speech at the 45th Space Congress here Feb. 27.

“Right now we’re looking at the capability of two launches in 24 hours,” he said. “If we can constrain or reduce that time between launches, we’re going to continue to open up launch opportunities for more customers to come in.”

To be able to handle two launches in under a day, Jackim said that at least one of the vehicles has to use new autonomous flight safety systems, which reduces the demands of tracking and communications assets at the range. SpaceX currently uses that system for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

“We have shown cases where we can do it, but one of the constraints is that right now one of the customers has to be flying on the autonomous flight safety system,” he said.

Jackim said the Air Force is studying other ways to improve the number of launches the spaceport can support, in part by addressing range and weather problems that can scrub launches. The Air Force is now using a new system to assess risks to ships that enter restricted waters during launch preparations, treating a tug with a two-person crew differently from a cruise ship with thousands on board. A new weather tool will allow controllers to better understand threats from lightning and other phenomena.

He emphasized there’s no specific operational requirement to support two launches from the Eastern Range within 24 hours. “Right now, we’re just using the 2-in-24 as a goal. It’s kind of a strawman that we’re chasing to see if we can do it,” he said.

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