WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted June 22 to make OneWeb the first of what will likely be several new non-geosynchronous orbit (NGSO) satellite constellations granted regulatory approval to operate in the United States.
In an open commission meeting June 22, the FCC approved OneWeb’s request, filed more than a year ago, to provide broadband internet service to the United States with a constellation of 720 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites using Ku- and Ka-band spectrum.
OneWeb’s FCC application, submitted under the name WorldVu, triggered a flood of 11 other applicants that all surfaced during the company’s processing round. Other contenders include SpaceX, which is proposing a system of more than 4,000 LEO satellites; Boeing, with up to 3,000 satellites; and ViaSat and Telesat, among others.
Tom Sullivan, chief of the FCC’s International Bureau, said the additional applications range from “as little as two satellites to as many as 4,000.” The other proposals are still under review by his bureau’s satellite division, he said.
“We hope to approve many more constellations because we know that the more companies compete, the more consumers win,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The order lays the foundation for the deployment of future low-Earth orbit satellites while establishing carefully measured standards to ensure that these NGSO constellations won’t interfere with their terrestrial or geostationary counterparts, and the order provides that OneWeb will need to accommodate inline interference avoidance and spectrum sharing with other NGSOs in the future.”
OneWeb’s plans to launch its first satellites next year on Europeanized Soyuz rockets through Arianespace, and intends to begin operations in 2019. The company said earlier this month that its progress on developing the system was not impeded by the collapse of a planned merger with geostationary fleet operator Intelsat.
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly cautioned that the topics of interference and prevention of orbital debris “will need to be considered further,” regardless of OneWeb’s approval. He also said that the increased demand for spectrum between both satellite and terrestrial communications, as evidenced by the heated spectrum debates surrounding the 2015 World Radiocommunications Conference, remains a challenge in need of resolution.
“This item is more of a first step, rather than a middle or final one,” he said. “Going forward there should be more holistic conversation and appropriate consideration of the complete picture of spectrum needs for both NGSOs and terrestrial use. As I’ve stated before, the satellite and wireless industries continue on a collision course both here and internationally as they seek spectrum for future systems. Generally I remain concerned that we may be foregoing opportunities for the clearing and sharing of spectrum by permitting additional uses on a piecemeal basis.”
O’Rielly said OneWeb’s authorization is conditioned on the outcome of a larger NGSO rulemaking proceeding by the FCC that has yet to conclude. In the FCC’s Order and Declaratory Ruling issued June 1, the agency said OneWeb “will not receive any special exemptions to the rulemaking based solely on this grant.”
OneWeb revealed Alaska Communications would be the company’s first reseller in Alaska, the largest state by land area in the country. The U.S. market has been the most active for residential satellite broadband, and has driven large high throughput satellites mainly from Hughes and ViaSat.
WASHINGTON — NASA announced June 22 the selection of an independent review committee that will examine cost and schedule issues with its next flagship astronomy mission, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).
NASA said earlier this year it would establish the review committee, a recommendation of a study last year by a National Academies panel examining the progress made on implementing the 2010 astrophysics decadal survey. That panel was concerned about growing cost estimates for WFIRST and its implications for other NASA astrophysics programs.
The committee is co-chaired by Peter Michelson, the chair of the physics department at Stanford University who has worked on high-energy astrophysics missions such as Fermi; and Orlando Figueroa, a retired NASA official whose career included serving as deputy director of the Goddard Space Flight Center and director of NASA’s Mars exploration program. The other members include a mix of scientists, engineers and program managers.
“We are confident this review will provide the insight and confidence among key stakeholders necessary to move toward what promises to be an exciting science investigation bound to reshape our understanding of the universe,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a statement announcing the membership of the review panel.
WFIRST, the top-ranked large, or flagship, mission in the 2010 decadal, is still in its early phases of development. The mission was scheduled to enter Phase B in October, but agency officials previously said they would delay that until the completion of the independent review and implementation of any recommendations from that report.
“We have paused the progress towards the systems requirements review for WFIRST,” Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said in a presentation June 22 to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee. That independent review committee has already started its work, he said, including meetings with the project.
Hertz said he expected a final report from the panel in the fall. “Once we have a report in hand, then NASA will incorporate the report’s recommendations into our planning, possibly even impacting our design for WFIRST but certainly our plans for WFIRST,” he said. That will delay the project by several months, he added.
WFIRST, an infrared telescope that will use a 2.4-meter mirror assembly provided to NASA by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2012, is currently scheduled for launch in the mid-2020s. Hertz said that schedule will depend in large part on funding the mission receives.
“The earlier we can make money available, the faster they go and the earlier they launch,” he said. “Unfortunately, unless my budget goes up, we can’t accelerate WFIRST and maintain a balanced program at the same time, so we will not be accelerating WFIRST unless we get additional funds.”
Finding that balance is already a struggle for NASA’s astrophysics program. NASA requested $90 million for WFIRST in its fiscal year 2017 budget request, but the final appropriations bill passed by Congress in early May provides $105 million for the mission. Hubble and SOFIA also received slight increases, as did a mirror technology program not in the agency’s request.
However, the overall astrophysics program received $31 million less than the original request. Taking into account those increases specified for WFIRST and other programs, the rest of the astrophysics division is facing a cut of $47.4 million, or about 11 percent.
Hertz said NASA has submitted an operating plan to Congress that addresses those cuts, but since the plan has yet to be approved he could not discuss its details. Complicating matters, he said, is the fact there is now only a little more than three months left in the fiscal year to incorporate those changes.
“The places where we would like to accommodate this reduction we have slowed down our spending on, so that if Congress approves our operating plan, we can actually execute the operating plan we submitted,” he said. “If they tell us that it’s unacceptable to slow down on the things that we identified, and they tell us to slow down on something else, then it’s going to be challenging.”
WASHINGTON — Citing a long-term drought in satellite orders, Space Systems Loral has laid off a number of employees at its California satellite manufacturing facility, the company confirmed June 22.
In a statement to SpaceNews, SSL President John Celli said an “extended slowdown” in orders for geostationary orbit communications satellites led the company to this round of layoffs.
“We have seen an extended slowdown in orders for GEO satellites across the industry,” he said. “With fewer satellites coming into the factory we have to make reductions to remain competitive.”
Company spokesperson Wendy Lewis said SSL was not disclosing the number of people laid off. A source familiar with the layoffs said about eight percent of the company’s workforce was affected, which would be on the order of 200 employees.
“We continue to have a team of more than 2,000 in Palo Alto, and have carefully planned in order to meet all our customer commitments and to be prepared for new contract awards,” Celli said in his statement.
SSL has not announced an order for a commercial geostationary communications satellite since July 2016, when it said it would build two satellites for SiriusXM to replace existing spacecraft providing satellite radio services for North America.
Other satellite manufacturers have also reported weak demand for commercial GEO satellites. “Last year, there were 14 new geosynchronous satellites purchased,” Dave Thompson, president and chief executive of Orbital ATK, said in a May 11 earnings call about the company’s quarterly financial results. “And at this point, my crystal ball for 2017 is somewhere in the 12 to 14 satellites, so not better than last year.” He added he hoped for a rebound in orders in 2018 or 2019.
Boeing offered a similar assessment in March, forecasting between 13 and 17 commercial GEO satellite orders in 2017. “We hoped it would have picked up by now, but we are not seeing it,” Dawn Harms, Boeing Satellite Systems International vice president for global sales and marketing, said at a media briefing during the Satellite 2017 conference.
SSL, which in the past has relied almost exclusively on commercial GEO satellite business, has diversified in the last year, seeking more government business. The company won awards from NASA and DARPA for two separate satellite servicing programs, Restore-L and Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS), respectively. SSL is also the prime contractor for NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission, selected as part of the agency’s latest Discovery program competition in January.
Even some of this government business is in jeopardy, however. As part of NASA’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, the agency announced it would restructure the Restore-L program. Restore-L, which received $130 million in the final 2017 appropriations bill, would receive no funding in 2018, with that work transitioned to a satellite servicing technology development program funded at $45 million in the request.
WASHINGTON – In the past three months alone, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have found themselves before the Senate Appropriations Committee, House Armed Services Committee, and Senate Armed Services Committee.
It’s an unusually busy congressional appearance schedule that reflects budget season in the nation’s capital: no one wants to markup the Air Force budget without talking to the leaders of the Air Force. And Wilson and Goldfein have used every opportunity to reiterate their belief that space operations should stay squarely within the purview of the Air Force.
But Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee may have taken on new urgency for the service leaders.
The day before, the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, led by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), unveiled a legislative provision to separate space from other Air Force operations by setting up a “Space Corps” similar to the relationship the Marine Corps has in the Navy.
Rogers and Cooper want it to happen fast. If the provision makes it into law, the Air Force would be required to set up the new corps by Jan. 1, 2019. The commanding general would get a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the Pentagon’s military leadership — and report directly to Wilson.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the service secretary and top general reiterated their belief that now is not the time to focus on a Space Corps.
“If you’re saying the word ‘separate’ and ‘space’ in the same sentence, I would offer you’re moving us in the wrong direction,” Goldfein said. “Every mission that we perform in the United States military is dependent on space. Now’s not the time to build seams and segregate and separate, now’s the time to further integrate.”
Wilson agreed, arguing that at a time of sequestration and budget cuts, a reorganization is going to do more harm than good.
“The Pentagon is complicated enough,” she said. “We’re trying to simplify. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart, and cost more money… I don’t need another chief of staff and another six deputy chiefs of staff. We need to simplify, not make it more complicated.”
“As we say in Alabama, I’m pissed.”
The idea of a “Space Corps” within the Air Force, or a completely separate “Space Force,” has been floating around for a while. Advocates say it’s a way to focus proper attention on space operations, and protect the space budget from repeated cuts that have seen money transferred into air operations — often warfighting missions in the Middle East. Critics argue separation will be detrimental, and that in an era where space is becoming increasingly more integrated into everyday life, now’s not the time to stick it into its own silo.
But the idea of a Space Corps received renewed attention in April during the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, when Rogers, chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, said he would push for setting up a completely new military branch focused on space.
Thursday morning the subcommittee met to markup its portion of the National Defense Authorization Act, and Rogers opened with a statement saying he “had no illusions [Air Force leaders] were going to embrace our reforms.”
“This is an issue the subcommittee has studied for months and I can’t even tell you how many meetings with space experts and leaders Jim [Cooper] and I have had on this subject,” he said. “We both have come to the same conclusion – that the Department can’t fix itself on this; Congress has to step in.”
Rogers then sharply criticized Wilson’s and Golfein’s response to the proposal.
“When I see arguments that we are actually going to set back efforts to respond to adversary space threats, well, as we say in Alabama, I’m pissed,” Rogers said. “We’re not easily provoked. But, since we’ve rolled out our mark with these reforms to the national security space enterprise, I have to say I’ve been shocked by the response by the Air Force leadership. Did they miss where the Chinese and the Russians have already reorganized their space operations? The Chinese literally have a space force today.”
Other members of the House Armed Services Committee have also expressed support for major changes as well.
Rep. Doug Lamborn — a Republican whose Colorado district includes the headquarters of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base — said other committee members share Rogers’ “sense of urgency to do anything but business as usual.”
“The Air Force doesn’t have enough space personnel, and the space personnel they do have, unfortunately, have the lowest promotion rates in the Air Force. Not enough people, who don’t get promoted enough, and who are also way under-represented in Air Force leadership,” Lamborn said, speaking at a June 16 event on the space budget hosted by Jacques & Associates’ FiscalTrak and the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
Lamborn applauded the Air Force’s request for a $1.45 billion increase in funding for space over 2017’s levels, but questioned its adequacy.
“Stepping back and looking at the bigger budget picture, you have to ask, ‘Is this good enough?’” he said. “Let’s face it: they have so many other things to buy, including new fighters, new tankers, new bombers, and of course new nuclear weapons, all of which are things we absolutely need to buy, but all of which are expensive.”
“We are simply not well organized to maintain our leadership and competitive advantage in space,” Lamborn continued. “Gaining consensus on the solution, however, is obviously a lot more complicated. I think part of the lack of consensus stems from various opinions regarding how urgent the problem is. From there come the various opinions about how much reform is needed. All I know is we can’t afford to rearrange the deck chairs, or simply do another study.”
Rogers and Cooper’s proposal has a long way to go. It won expected approval by the subcommittee Thursday, and now must clear the full House Armed Services Committee before going to the floor of the full House sometime after the Fourth of July holiday. After all that, the Senate would need to agree as well.
The Senate is so far remaining mum on whether it would consider a similar proposal. The Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), isn’t scheduled to hold its own markup until June 28.
A committee staffer told SpaceNews that the committee is declining to comment on the Space Corps proposal until after the markup.
Despite bipartisan agreement on increasing funding for the military, many members of Congress have called President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal dead on arrival, setting up a potentially long and contentious budget season as both legislative chambers and the White House try to reach some sort of agreement.
A continuing resolution — which funds the government at the current year’s budget levels — would potentially hurt Rogers and Cooper’s proposal since it wouldn’t include the additional money that would very likely be needed to establish a new Space Corps.
For its part, the Air Force is doing its own rearranging on space. The service is setting up a new deputy chief of staff for space operations on the Air Staff. Wilson officially announced the new three-star position — formally known as the A-11 — on June 16, designed to act as an advocate for space within the Pentagon and aid in organizing and equipping space forces. The move “integrates, elevates, and normalizes space operations,” Wilson said.
The Pentagon’s 2018 budget proposal also seeks a 20-percent increase in funding for space operations. Speaking to reporters June 21, Wilson said that’s the direction the service wants to go.
“I think a most important question is how do we fund what we need [and] change to a warfighting ethos,” she said, adding that shuffling “org chart boxes” for a Space Corps is not the right solution at this time.
Goldfein said moving space out of the Air Force would cause too much disruption at a time when the service is trying to refocus on space as a warfighting domain, not a benign environment.
“I really do appreciate Congress’ interest in space because we’re passionate about it,” the general said. “But right now, as we’re making this transition, to get us anchored into a discussion about the organizational chart while we’re right now trying to move towards improving lethality and warfighting going forward, quite frankly would slow us down. I’ve got real concerns about getting in that kind of a dialogue right now.”
But on Thursday, Rogers delivered what he described as a “friendly warning,” noting that the Rumsfeld Commission in 2001, the Allard Commission in 2008, and “a dozen other reports and studies over the past 15 years” have all concluded that “the current organization isn’t working.”
“The Air Force leadership would have us trust them again to get it right. They just need a few more years to rearrange the deck chairs,” Rogers said. “This is the same Air Force that got us into the situation where the Russians and the Chinese are near-peers to us in space. We will not allow the status quo to continue.”
The chairman said we would rather work with Wilson and Goldfein to reform the space enterprise, but that “at the end of the day, whether or not they’re in the room when decisions are made is their choice.”
“They better shape up or they’ll figure out who is in charge here,” he said. “I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s the branch of our government that controls the purse strings.”
WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency began funding a reusable rocket engine anticipated to be ready for a test-fire demonstration in 2020, the same year as the first launch of the future Ariane 6 rocket.
ESA and Airbus Safran Launchers, the 50-50 joint venture between Airbus and Safran that is rebranding as ArianeGroup, signed a contract to develop Prometheus, a liquid- oxygen-and-methane-fueled engine that would cost 1 million euros ($1.1 million) per copy, or a tenth of what Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 first-stage engine costs to produce. ArianeGroup is working on Prometheus in parallel with development of Ariane 6, which will initially rely on the expendable Vulcain 2.1 engine.
Prometheus, which started out as a small, joint research initiative between the French space agency CNES and Airbus Safran Launchers, was adopted by ESA in December. ESA foresees the engine entering service around 2030 on future European launch vehicles, not necessarily Ariane 6.
“This signing underlines our determination to prepare now for the future of Europe’s launchers beyond 2030, while pulling out all the stops to ensure an Ariane 6 first flight in 2020,” Alain Charmeau, CEO of ArianeGroup, said in a June 22 statement. “Those two approaches based on continuous competitiveness and innovations are perfectly complementary.”
ESA allocated more than 80 million euros to Prometheus at its December 2016 ministerial conference. The agency did not disclose how much of that money it released with the signing of today’s contract.
Now that it’s an ESA program, Prometheus will see additional industrial partners join ArianeGroup in developing the engine. New partners include Italy-based Avio, manufacturer of the Vega rocket; GKN, a Swedish supplier for Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 components; and Safran’ Belgian subsidiary Safran AeroBooster. The companies intend to leverage new manufacturing methods such as 3D printing, predictive maintenance and digital control, and to test the engine at the German space agency DLR’s Lampoldhausen engine test facility.
LE BOURGET, FRANCE — Although Europe’s Space Rider reusable spaceplane is three years or so from its debut, the European Space Agency is already making plans to privatize the unmanned orbital vehicle.
By 2025, ESA officials said, Space Rider could be operating commercially, flying science payloads and bringing them back to Earth for roughly $9,200 per kilogram.
Arianespace, the Evry, France-based launch services provider, would likely serve as Space Rider’s operator, offering industry and government customers the opportunity to fill the spaceplane 800-kilogram payload capacity with microgravity science, materials testing, telecommunications and robotics demonstrations.
Space Rider is being developed by Thales Alenia Space and Lockheed Martin under the direction of the Italian Aerospace Research Centre, Cira. Funding for the program’s design phase was approved in December by ESA’s 22 member states.
A 2020 test flight would see Space Rider launch atop Arianespace’s Vega-C rocket (which makes its own debut in 2019) and land on a runway on one of the Atlantic’s Azores islands, Santa Maria.
During operational flights, Space Rider will orbit 400 kilometers above the Earth for a few months at the time, opening its payload bay doors to expose experiments to the space environment. Customers will pay roughly $9,200 kilogram to fly their payloads on Space Rider, according to Giorgio Tumino, ESA’s Space Rider and Vega rocket development program manager.
“This cost is usually only to go into orbit, but in this case [with Space Rider] it is to go and come back to Earth,” Tumino told SpaceNews here. “We really believe there is a market, a niche, that will drive this. We have already done preliminary studies, analyses and we see that it [Space Rider] is a very convenient tool.”
Tumino said Arianespce, as the commercial partner for the Vega rocket, will likely operate Space Rider, as well.
Space Rider, at an expected 4-5 meters in length, will be about half the size of the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B unmanned orbital spaceplane. X-37B completed its fourth classified mission in May, landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center just shy of a two-year stay in orbit.
After Space Riders’s first mission in 2020, it would fly five more missions spaced six to 12 months apart, according to Tumino. During this first few years of operations, a decision would be made about how many Space Riders to build for commercial operations; Arianespace, he said, might decide to operate a fleet of them.
During development, a full-scale Space Rider model will be dropped in 2019 from an atmospheric balloon or helicopter to test the vehicle’s parafoil landing system.
Space Rider is based on ESA’s successful suborbital re-entry test vehicle, the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV). In 2015, the IXV flew halfway around the planet in 100 minutes before parachuting into the Pacific Ocean for recovery.
The PSLV is scheduled to lift off at 11:59 p.m. Eastern tonight carrying a Cartosat-2 remote-sensing satellite.
Also on board will be 30 smallsat secondary payloads from 15 countries, including the United States. [PTI]
SES says its malfunctioning AMC-9 satellite does not pose a risk to other satellites in geostationary orbit. The spacecraft, which suffered a “significant anomaly” June 17, is slowly drifting westward in GEO on a stable and predictable trajectory, and does not pose a collision hazard to nearby satellites. The spacecraft is being tracked by SES and others, including the Space Data Association, who says it will notify other satellite operators should AMC-9 come close to their satellites. [SpaceNews]
Airbus will be the first commercial customer for the Vega-C launch vehicle. Airbus signed a contract this week for two Vega-C launches, each carrying two Earth-imaging satellites. Those launches are scheduled for mid-2020. Vega-C is an upgraded version of the existing Vega small launch vehicle, whose first launch is planned for 2019. [SpaceNews]
Smallsats could provide an insurance policy for larger national security space systems. During a panel discussion Wednesday, advocates for small satellites and small launch vehicles argued that such systems could deter attacks on larger systems in the event of a conflict, or supplement or replace them as needed. Those systems could be developed for one to two percent of current investment in national security space systems. Smallsats have long been proposed as a responsive solution for national security, but panelists said increasing capabilities of smallsats make that approach more feasible than ever. [SpaceNews]
Luxembourg has signed an agreement with the European Space Agency on space resources. The agreement, signed this week at the Paris Air Show, will include a feasibility assessment and analysis of technical maturity by ESA of asteroid exploration and utilization. Luxembourg, an ESA member state, has its own space resources initiative, funding investment in asteroid mining companies and other efforts to support the field. [Government of Luxembourg]
China’s Tianzhou-1 spacecraft has undocked for a second time from the Tiangong-2 module. The spacecraft, the first in a series of cargo spacecraft intended to support a future Chinese space station, undocked Wednesday, after undocking, flying around, and redocking with the module earlier in the week. Tianzhou-1 will fly free for three months, performing experiments and releasing a cubesat before docking with Tiangong-2 for a final time. [Xinhua]
The launch of a space surveillance satellite has been postponed by up to two months. The launch of the SensorSat spacecraft on a Minotaur 4, previously scheduled for mid-July from Cape Canaveral, is now planned for some time between the end of August and mid-September. SensorSat, also known as ORS-5, is a mission by the Operationally Responsive Space office to track satellites and other objects in geostationary orbit. The Air Force did not disclose the reason for the delay. [Spaceflight Now]
Astrobotic, a company developing commercial lunar landers, has signed a partnership to provide high-speed communications. Astrobotic will carry a laser communications payload from Atlas Space Operations, allowing its lunar lander to transmit data at up to one gigabit per second. Astrobotic, a former competitor for the Google Lunar X Prize, is developing a lunar lander for an “upcoming” mission. [Astrobotic]
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is able to target rocks for study on its own. A software upgrade to the rover last year incorporated a new autonomous targeting capability, allowing the rover to identify suitable rocks and even automatically firing a laser to vaporize a layer of that rock to study its composition. That system has a 93-percent accuracy despite using a relatively low-powered computer on the rover. [Wired]
New studies offer conflicting assessments on the presence of additional planets in the outer solar system. One survey has found a number of additional objects in highly elongated orbits in the outer solar system, raising doubts that a previous cluster of such bodies were put into those orbits by the presence of a ninth planet. A separate study, though, suggests there is a ninth — or tenth — planet in the outer solar system based on the warping of orbits of Kuiper Belt objects. Searches have not, so far, directly detected any planet-sized objects in the outer reaches of the solar system. [Science / New Scientist]
LONDON — The European Space Agency is working with European satellite makers and operators to harness the opportunities presented to the space industry by the development of 5G mobile networks.
ESA’s director of telecommunications and integrated applications, Magali Vaissiere, joined 16 European satellite industry leaders at the Paris Air Show June 21 to sign a joint statement on collaborating on the Satellite for 5G initiative.
“We see 5G as a market opportunity,” said Vaissiere. “We know that there will be important new demands for new services and we know that terrestrial players are currently preparing to develop this future infrastructure and services to meet the 5G requirements.”
5G networks, to be rolled out within the next decade, will offer extremely low latencies and high capacity, enabling widespread deployment of Internet of Things technologies including autonomous cars, connected factories and smart infrastructure.
The global 5G market will be worth $1.2 trillion by 2026 according to forecasts by networking and telecommunications equipment giant Ericsson, one of the leaders of the 5G technology development.
The Satellite for 5G initiative will run between 2018 and 2020 and possibly beyond. The project will focus on developing technology demonstrations to prove the potential of space systems for 5G networks.
“We need, indeed, that the space solutions are developed early enough,” Vaissiere told SpaceNews. “If they are developed early enough, they could be considered and become essential components of the future 5G. We cannot wait until the terrestrial players are ready with their solutions and services. We have to, in parallel, get ready as the space community.”
Vaissiere said the demonstrations, expected to start within the next few months, will focus on various 5G applications such as connected transport solutions, public safety or entertainment.
“The industry will identify where the satellite is best placed to be the most competitive against terrestrial services and complementary,” said Vaissiere. “One requirement for 5G is to allow the same type of connectivity for anyone, anywhere, anytime and this is where the satellite is needed to complement any kind of terrestrial infrastructure that will be deployed.”
Vaissiere said she expects a plethora of solutions, including those based on low-Earth-orbit constellations and geostationary satellites, to be developed for the particular needs of various applications.
“You will find usage that will be better suited for constellations and others for the ones demanding huge capacity over a small area will probably be better served by geostationary systems,” she said. “You will find space for the two types of solutions.”
Vassiere said ESA’s role in the project is to heighten the space industry’s visibility to the rest of the telecommunications sector and ensure space-based solutions are understood by the terrestrial infrastructure operators.
“I don’t think there is enough awareness,” she said. “People have in mind that space is always expensive, which is not true anymore. There are solutions that provide services at cost that are comparable to terrestrial solutions. This is why we have to keep on explaining what space can deliver now already and maybe tomorrow as well.”
The ‘Satellite for 5G’ initiative is part of ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems program. The agency said the work is in line with existing 5G initiatives championed by the European Commission.
This commentary originally appeared in the June 19, 2017 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
From the dawn of warfare, the key warfighting precepts of “hold the high ground” and “keep the sun behind you” have evolved and become more subtle, but they are still valid today. As air power in World War II evolved, battles moved to the air and the necessity to maintain air superiority became a fundamental warfighting philosophy. If you asked a fighter pilot during World War II what he needed in a plane, he would say, “I want to turn inside the enemy,” or superior maneuverability. Today, as we have firmly moved to space as the high ground, this maxim has never been truer.
Today, however, “turning inside our adversary” is as much about technology development cycles as battlefield maneuvers. As technology cycles are turning faster and faster, our adversaries are learning to turn inside our technology development cycles. This technology “turn” is becoming more sophisticated, challenging our capabilities in space. Each generation of technology improves over the last, because each generation leverages the one before. Therefore, the pace of technological progress speeds up over time. Accelerating progress leads to the emergence of more and more sophisticated technologies. Technical superiority is separated by shorter and shorter time intervals.
Adversaries are turning out their counters to our technology inside our development times. They can counter our superiority in technology before we can field our next-generation systems. Often they find ways to do this with lower cost and less technically sophisticated solutions. The net result is our space systems become vulnerable and less effective within their own operational lifetimes.
There is a narrative that opposes changes to the current development process. While much of that can be, has been, and continues to be argued over costs and risks, what cannot be argued is the speed at which our adversaries are implementing new technology or (maybe just as scary) learning to counter our new technology. We now live in an environment where it takes roughly 7-10 years to gain approval for and to develop a space system that is in service for up to 12 years or longer. That means we are giving our adversaries 20 years or more to develop and implement counter measures to 20-years-or-older technology. High-cost, long-duration solutions are only valid if you assume a long-term “static” (rather than “dynamic”) threat and response environment. At a recent congressional hearing, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said “adversaries are modernizing and innovating faster than we are, putting America’s technological advantage in air and space at risk.” Clearly if they are modernizing on three-to-four-year cycles and we are modernizing on seven-to-10-year cycles, it doesn’t take many cycles for the U.S. to lose our technological advantages. In this age of more and more rapid technology cycles, the implications are clear: Space missions need to be planned where adversary counter response and technology evolution are given major consideration in establishing schedules and even determining how much technical content should be bitten off at each proposed block.
For years, we have gone in the direction of taking longer and longer to decide which systems to pursue and then develop those systems — from 10 months for the first DMSP weather satellite to the 7-10 years of today’s satellites. We have heard from senior leadership that to defend our advantage in space we need to go to shorter development cycles and deliver lower-cost, more-resilient systems. We have yet to achieve these goals. It is a difficult goal to achieve because of the political nature of acquisition itself which involves billions of taxpayer money and equates to millions of jobs. Yet, it is critical to move to the shorter development times, with rapid technology insertion to turn inside our adversaries from a technology point of view. It might be noted that this is not just a space system phenomena, but the development and approval cycle for aircraft, ships, and other complex systems is also longer than ever.
We have seen significant developments by our adversaries in the realm of space superiority. They are making rapid technology advances in strategic and tactical missile threats, yet we are still in the mode of continuing to buy 1980s technology systems in response. While I certainly agree we need to move to more affordable and resilient systems from a survivability of capability point of view, the other element that is just as important is turning inside the adversary from a technology development point of view.
These imperatives mean we must change how we acquire systems, and we cannot afford to wait until another generation of systems to do this. Shiyan and Lucha are now.
So we need to change BOTH how we buy things, get new concepts through an intense approval cycle with many players involved and more importantly, what we buy.
HOW WE BUY THINGS
Much has been said and written on how we buy things. How we buy things tends to be tightly related to what we buy. The checks and balances we use to reduce the cost, schedule, and performance risks of our systems have slowly evolved to have characteristics that are becoming virtually untenable.
If we buy complex, expensive aggregated systems, then we likely cannot afford spares. This creates a high-risk situation requiring that a system must work or we are without capability for many years. As a result, we have to have a highly assured method of buying and testing, i.e. Class A. If we moved to buying lower cost, single-purpose systems, we would be able to buy more and have inherent spares. We could lower surety, increase our risk posture by buying more things and buying them faster.
We need to come up with a more time-efficient way to develop and certify requirements. This will include accepting some risk tolerance by eliminating the need for everything to be Class A. It also means emphasizing requirements flexibility to facilitate the implementation of newer technology and the elimination of technology obsolescence. Finally, it means decreasing lifetime requirements to lower cost and allow technology insertion. This could include use of more prototyping and not allowing programs to enter formal acquisition milestone status until absolutely ready. One way of rapid technology insertion is through delivery of capability incrementally, i.e. the ability to evolve inside each block. If designed in from the start as part of the acquisition process via block upgrades tied to meaningful capability increments, this could work. This is the way we did things when we acquired Hexagon; evolutionary capability improvement was put into every vehicle. The commercial comm satellite world essentially does the same thing.
Long life means expensive to build and has too great an opportunity cost from the technology advancement perspective. It also gives adversaries too long a period of “stability” that allows them to design effective, low cost counter measures. Long life of these space systems also robs our advantage to exploit opportunities to do technology refreshes or even to fix problems that often appear during a satellite’s long life. Long life may itself drive redundancy on systems and drive weight which in turn drives launch costs.
However, the main purpose of this commentary is to address what we buy.
WHAT WE BUY
We need to better align authority and responsibility as the first key step to reduce the non-value added reviews and decision timelines. We also need to give Air Force Space Command working with the Program Executive Officer for Space the authority to define both development Class (A, B, C, or D, or any combination consistent with budget and need) and lifetime as the key decision factors in the level of acceptable mission risk commensurate with the command’s mission priorities and the space enterprise needs. Space Command, leading other key space stakeholders such as STRATCOM, is best qualified to assess the risk posture along with technology insertion needs vs lifetime and cost.
We also need to better leverage commercial industry. Rideshares are certainly viable and have been proved so, but it requires a change in thinking, and that is hard. While there are issues to be worked out regarding cyber protection, especially rideshares on foreign payloads, it is less hard if we focus on commercial buses, which allows the government to concentrate on payloads to accomplish the mission and significantly reduces sustaining costs. The big argument against this approach has been nuclear survivability. We need to be honest with ourselves and admit that there is no rational nuclear threat to space systems that could be defended against. Certainly, there are sophisticated space based threats (jamming, etc.) but the commercial industry is as concerned and proactive in this arena as the DoD.
The how-to-deploy decision needs to be a responsibility seated with the organize, train and equip function for space vs. the acquisition portion of the DoD. The organization that is responsible for providing the people and equipment to fight space and defend space should be the ones measuring risk vs requirements.
The Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) process and goals are defined in Title 10 for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the Vice thru the Joint Requirement Oversight Council. This is a good thing. However, it has morphed into levels of detail that were never originally intended. I believe we just need to define levels of degree in more detail. Or they want to write requirements that specify a solution. For example, mandate that capabilities are qualitative statements only; whereas requirements are quantitative. In other words, prohibit quantitative statements from the Initial Capababilites Document and Capability Development Document. Applying this simple definition would refocus the JCIDS process on the original intent of that process. Translating those qualitative statements (capabilities) into quantitative statements (requirements) would then be done by the acquiring agent using the systems engineering process.
JROC – provides a definition of the missions that need to be done and define the goals of those missions. This is much like the way that the corporate level of an organization does with the company’s strategic plan.
Warfighting command (e.g. STRATCOM) – define the objectives of each mission, and particularly the mission capabilities required along with the ways they will be deployed, along with a definition of the users and how they will use the systems.
MAJCOM (e.g. AFSPC) – define the mission requirements and cross cutting requirements across the missions in their portfolio. Define the operations concepts for each of the missions.
PEO Acquisition organization (e.g. SMC) – design, develop and acquire the systems to accomplish the missions. The process of translating capabilities into requirements is the first step in the systems engineering process (ref: the original MIL-STD 499A definition of systems engineering and the requirements analysis loop). The strength of systems engineering resides in the fact it is a closed loop process that uses feedback to maintain control of the process and its resulting design Accomplish mission and Cross mission architectures.
We need to focus on low risk methods of rapid technology insertion. We must focus on technology insertion and modular flexible system designs that can accommodate technology insertion. We should develop with on ramps, with separate technology development arms, and a system development plan that provides windows to incorporate technology if it is ready.
Despite the rhetoric, we simply cannot continue to acquire space systems the way we have in the past. We are no longer one of two superpowers, nor the single major player in space. Sixty countries are now in space and have interests in space. China and Russia are at least near peer players in space; both have shown they are willing to build systems leveraging new technology and are doing this on very short time cycles. They are even more successful in countering our advances almost before they are fully fielded. At the speed our adversaries are incorporating new technology into their space systems. We either keep up or we will soon no longer be the dominant international player in space. While resiliency is critically important, speed has also become essential so that we can implement this generations version of turning inside our adversaries. The speed factor must be a driving force as we pursue the Space Enterprise Vision (now called the Space Warfighting Construct). It may produce greater results than anything else we do to achieve resiliency.
So, as we go forward we should at least seriously investigate, or outright implement the following recommendations:
A. What we buy:
1. Our systems must be technically superior to those of our adversaries. With the speed of technology, we need to find a way to turn acquisition faster, and do technology insertion more efficiently.
2. These capabilities need to be available in an assured fashion; therefore, they must be resilient and be able to be rapidly reconstituted.
3. This will result in more rapid on orbit replacement and more payloads; therefore, we need to become more affordable.
B. How we buy it (Affordability and speed drives the need for):
4. A faster, more efficient and flexible requirements (JCIDS) validation approach
5. Greater use of Class B, C, & D elements
6. Properly aligning authority and accountability
7. Use of commercial space industry, especially for buses and rideshares
8. Getting Milestone Decision Authority for our ACAT-1 programs back into the Air Force.
9. Reducing the life expectancy duration for the systems we are procuring in order to leverage the ability to refresh technology more often and to reduce the complexity/cost of components.
10. Exploiting Operationally Responsive Space authorities now in law for the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC)
11. Pursue getting Rapid Capabilities Office-like authorities for SMC to speed up decision-making
12. Getting the AFPEO (Space) Service Acquisition Executive authority/responsibility.
13. Lowering the cost of launch by accepting appropriate risk and continue to use competition to drive costs to more reasonable levels
We have no choice but to react by turning technology in to our systems as fast, or faster, than our adversaries do.
Our adversaries are developing challenging strategic and tactical missiles, advanced communications technologies, and certainly, very advanced space superiority systems. Even commercial systems are turning their developments inside two years. And these new and faster systems we will build need to be resilient and affordable.
To accomplish these goals we simply must change BOTH what we are buying and how we are going to buy them to overcome the challenges we are currently facing.
Thomas “Tav” Taverney is a retired Air Force Major General and former Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command.
WASHINGTON — Advocates of small satellites argue that such systems could offer a much-need “layer of resiliency” for national security space applications for as little as one percent of current spending on such programs.
At a June 21 discussion about small satellites at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, developers of launch systems for small satellites in particular argued for increased investment in smallsat technologies that could provide an insurance policy of sorts for larger military satellites in the event of a conflict.
The current architecture of military space systems “was really built in an uncontested environment,” said Steve Nixon, vice president for strategic development at Stratolaunch. “It’s no longer resilient to threats and probably cannot operate through a contested military environment.”
Advances in small satellite technology, he said, offered a solution to this problem. “What we’re proposing is adding a layer to our architecture of small satellites that duplicate the functions of what the rest of the architecture is doing,” he said. That layer, he said, could deter attacks in the first place, as well as provide a surge capability in the event of a crisis.
“We believe that for just one percent of what we spend on national security space, you could add this layer, both in terms of satellites and launch systems,” he said. “One percent is your insurance or deterrent capability that preserves the rest of your architecture. It seems like a really good deal.” He later said that cost could be up to two percent of overall national security space spending, which he estimated at $30 billion a year across defense and intelligence agencies.
Not surprisingly, Nixon believed that his company’s launch system could support that effort. Stratolaunch’s giant aircraft, rolled out of its hangar for the first time last month, was originally sized for a much larger launch vehicle. Growth in the small satellite market, though, has led the company to instead use the aircraft for smaller rockets, starting with the Pegasus XL from Orbital ATK.
Stratolaunch’s aircraft will be able to carry up to three Pegasus rockets on a single flight. “We think there might be very strong attraction to that kind of thing in the national security market,” he said. “With one aircraft sortie, you could basically launch an entire architecture of satellites into multiple planes, assuming each launch carries multiple satellites.”
Richard Dalbello, vice president of business development and government affairs for Virgin Galactic, agreed. His company is also developing an air-launch system, LauncherOne, for small satellites. He said that it can be responsive and operate with minimal ground infrastructure, taking everything it needs on the Boeing 747 aircraft that will serve as the launch platform.
Dalbello called for some “small” investment now “to start replicating the capabilities that we have with this new generation of capabilities so that if anything does happen, we have the ability to exercise that and have the capabilities the warfighter needs in an uninterrupted fashion.”
He added this “paradigm shift” to small, responsive launch could benefit commercial customers. An example, he said, is Planet, the company that operates a constellation of remote sensing cubesats, rapidly iterating through more than a dozen generations of that spacecraft design. “Planet, although they’re incredibly creative as a company, are still stuck in the old launch paradigm where they’re waiting for years to get up into space,” he said. “What we want to do is revolutionize that, and that will have direct implications for both DOD and the commercial sector.”
Concepts of responsive launch are not new, but other panelists at the event argued what has changed is that small satellites have become increasingly capable, allowing them to do more at relatively low costs. “What’s happened over the last decade or so is a shift towards being able to build really capable systems in really small volumes,” said William Jeffrey, chief executive of SRI International.
“In some cases, smallsats may seem to offer much less capability,” said Bhavya Lal of the Science and Technology Policy Institute. “But the interesting thing about smallsats, like any other disruptive innovation, is that they’re moving relentlessly up the capability curve.”
She cautioned, though, against getting caught up in the “hype” about smallsats and small launch vehicles, despite in some cases significant outside investment in those companies. “A lot of these capabilities are in the future,” she said. “There’s excitement in the community that I think we need to capture, but we just do need to know that investment is a sign not of success of the sector but of interest in the sector.”