New Space Race May Boost U.S. Industrial Base
To that end, officials are implementing a new national security space strategy that emphasizes international collaboration and global partnerships to augment, protect and operate satellite systems.
U.S. military forces are dependent upon space-based technologies, including GPS and commercial communication satellites, to conduct operations. But as demand soars for more satellite-enabled capabilities, there are growing challenges that could hinder attempts to field systems.Budgetary constraints are complicating progress in an increasingly competitive market.
With 11 countries operating 22 launch facilities around the globe, myriad satellites and man-made space junk are crowding available orbits. A number of countries also are developing counter-space capabilities ranging from satellite jamming technology to lasers and other weapons.
The congested, competitive and contested nature of space is driving the Defense Department to seek to address those challenges, despite tight budgets, said Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy.
Speaking to reporters in Washington July 19, Schulte said the Defense Department is investing nearly $26 billion to maintain its advantage in space. But the cost of building and launching space systems and operating them is becoming prohibitively expensive.
“We know that we’re moving into a constrained budget environment and I think we are going to have to look at different approaches,” said Schulte. “We’re going to have to look at innovative ways of operating and procuring capabilities. We’re maybe going to have to look at some concepts that we wouldn’t have looked at before.”
The strategy includes a push toward a money-saving concept that is called hosted payloads, in which sensors and other instruments are placed onto non-Defense Department satellites. The Air Force next month is preparing to launch an advanced infrared imaging sensor, called the CHIRP, or commercially hosted infrared payload, on a communications satellite.
“By launching it as a payload on another satellite, the department gets considerable savings,” he said. “CHIRP is costing us something like $65 million. If we had launched it as a free-flying satellite, it would have cost more like $500 million.”
The Defense Information Systems Agency has proposed a program called Assured Satcom Services Into a Single Theater, or ASSIST. DISA wants to commercially procure satellite services to support troops in Central Command rather than lease them annually, said Schulte. “In doing so, we can save significantly on annual leasing costs and we can get access to satellites that have three times the capacity of the closest U.S. government-owned satellite.”
The Defense Department also is forging partnerships with a number of countries in efforts to procure new satellites. Three allied nations have bought into the Advanced Very High Frequency satellite program and Australia is buying into the Wideband Global Satellite project, Schulte said. “What that does is it shares the burden, gives us enhanced coverage and helps provide some of the deterrence,” to prevent potential enemies from attacking the system, he said.
One of goals is to create collaborators out of potential competitors, he added. “Let’s work with others to build international constellations that serve all of us, rather than competitive constellations that just cost more money,” he said. “In an era of tight budget requirements, everyone’s looking how to leverage each other’s capabilities.”
The Australians and Canadians, in particular, are ready to contribute, he said. U.S. defense officials are in discussions with leaders from those two countries to talk about how they would help with an international network for space surveillance.
As for the U.S. industrial base, Schulte said companies here have read the new strategy and have been peppering government officials with ideas. “We encourage them about innovative approaches to taking advantage of commercial capabilities, and thinking differently about space,” said Schulte, who added that the department is worried about the state of the industrial base, especially given the waning of the civilian space program. The return of Space Shuttle Atlantis to Earth on July 21st marks the end of NASA’s manned space flight program.
Schulte said the Pentagon wants to energize the industrial base. The Defense Department has proposed to Congress a new acquisition approach called EASE, or evolutionary acquisition for space efficiency. It promotes block buys of space systems, technology insertion and advanced procurement to provide more stability to satellite acquisition programs.
Acquisition experts in the Air Force believe EASE could save 10 percent of the cost of those systems, said Schulte. That money could be reinvested in block upgrades — new technologies that are inserted into a program incrementally. But the success of the concept depends largely on whether Congress agrees to it and appropriates funds accordingly, he added.
Officials also are looking at export controls, he said. Many space systems cannot be exported, but commercial companies have complained that the restrictions have put them at a great disadvantage on the international market. “It doesn’t make sense that we disallow our commercial companies from marketing technologies that are widely available in the commercial market,” Schulte said.
Defense and State Department officials recently delivered to Congress a report that echoes the administration’s national space policy, which favors exporting commercially available space technology. “We are working to ease the administrative burden associated with export controls and speed up processing,” said Schulte. The department is establishing a single agency to handle the list of items to be controlled. But in the end, Congress needs to agree to any changes to lift restrictions in place.
Space increasingly will become commercialized and the resulting lower cost of entry has implications for the Defense Department, particularly in launch. The department is collaborating with the White House, NASA and other agencies to develop a new space transportation policy that reflects the end of the shuttle program and the beginning of more commercial space launch entrants. “Commercial space is part of the future, and we want to be part of that future,” said Schulte. “We want to ensure a level playing field for new commercial entrants that can show they have reliable and effective launch systems that meet our requirements.” Companies including SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. are expected to play a larger role in future defense space initiatives. Orbital will launch CHIRPS from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. “Space as a whole, is just critical to our national security but also to our economic prosperity, and in many ways it’s harder and harder to differentiate military space from civil space,” said Schulte.