VIEWPOINT EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES
Enabling Satellites to Do More With Less
Recently, the Air Force provided guidance stating the key to the nation’s future starts with updating its space ground architecture.
The future of satellite capabilities lies within the endless possibilities already located in ground systems. Satellite customers should continue to prioritize a streamlined approach by investing more in ground modernization and reuse of existing capabilities where feasible.
Existing ground station resources should be modernized to adapt to new payload missions using a modular approach that reuses components that are common across several missions. Hundreds of highly capable ground systems, operations centers, radars and telescopes span the Earth. This technology is continuously being sustained and refreshed to serve current space missions. When a new space mission arises, it can cost the customer in the billion-dollar range to build and launch a satellite system and construct the accompanying ground system. As with any development program, the time from conception to operation lasts several years. But there is a better way to get more affordable capability to our warfighters.
Transforming the ground station starts with a modular approach that reuses existing capabilities where feasible and uses a modern app-based technology approach. This solution uses commercial products and open standards to provide a flexible and sustainable future. In the event of a new payload, apps can be efficiently customized and installed into the operating center to support the mission.
Apps enable any ground station to become a resilient technological phenomenon. Just within the Air Force alone, nearly 200 satellites exist with ground stations, some consolidated and others separated all over the world. Through a modular and app-based ground station approach that leverages existing capabilities, those numbers would dramatically decrease along with the associated operations and maintenance costs. Essentially, it’s all about altering the ground system to do more, stay current with missions and adapt to new payloads.
Another key to modernizing satellite capabilities to increase affordability is focusing on data exploitation from current systems. Across the inventory of government satellite systems, much data just “falls on the floor” without being exploited to benefit both the primary mission of the satellite and other missions. By focusing on this data exploitation and utilizing all the data currently available, government customers can get more out of their investment.
The key is to think more holistically about all missions and how one system’s data point might benefit another if made available in real time to that system. But resource refocusing and culture change is required to better exploit existing data. A great example of maximizing data exploitation is the upgrade to the space-based infrared ground system. Solutions are currently being implemented to quickly distribute more data to more government users across multiple domains using an open framework approach. This will benefit many users beyond the traditional strategic missile warning mission.
The future of higher performing satellite communications is attainable today with a sharper focus on space ground modernization. Current capabilities can be leveraged as part of this migration, and those existing investments will keep modernization efforts within affordable funding profiles.
Vincent “Vinny” Sica is vice president of space ground solutions for Lockheed Martin’s Defense & Intelligence Solutions.