This week, the Space Force news is all about satellites — as in the announcement of several new contracts for production and launch, including one $70 million deal to a little company called SpaceX; the USSF also officially took over another NOAA weather satellite to upgrade old systems. Plus, quite a few words on the service as well as enhanced relations (and possibly operations) in the Indo Pacific from CSO Gen. Chance Saltzman from Japan. We’re orbiting the headlines in this week’s Space Force News…
In Japan, Gen. Saltzman hints at US combatant component
USSF Chief of Space Operations (CSO) Gen. Chance Saltzman and Chief Master Sargeant John Bentivegna wrapped up an extensive six–day visit to Japan on Tuesday, September 26, with promises of strengthening the two countries’ integrated deterrence through greater cooperation in space security.
Among those who met with Saltzman were Minister of Defense Minoru Kihara, Japan Self–Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, Japan Air Self–Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hiroaki Uchikura, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) president Dr. Hiroshi Yamakawa, and JASDF Space Operations Group commander Col. Kimitoshi Sugiyama.
In addition to joining Saltzman in the meeting with the Minister of Defense, Bentivegna met with JSDF Joint Staff Warrant Officer Osamu Kai and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the JASDF Chief of Staff Hiroyasu Kochaku.
The news throughout the six days centered on pledges to strengthen the US–Japan alliance in the Asia Pacific region, an area of emphasis early under Saltzman’s leadership of the Space Force.
According to a USSF news release, “The two sides reviewed progress on bilateral cooperative efforts,” including the inaugural Space Engagement Talks in July and U.S. use of Japan’s future deep space radar. They also explored ways to strengthen cooperation in areas such as satellite communications and research and development.
“The leaders further discussed increasing partnership activities that deepen interoperability, including through space education, training, and exercises. They additionally agreed to continue advocating for international norms of behavior in space.”
Diplomacy and mutual goodwill aside, the aspects of Saltzman’s tour that struck the biggest chord in US media was his hinting at the prospect of establishing a combatant component in Japan. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, September 25, Saltzman stated that such a component would be the “next phase in joint initiatives” in defense in the Indo–Pacific region, following the establishment of US Indo–Pacific Command and US Space Forces Korea in late 2022.
Though Saltzman named Yokota Air Base in Tokyo might make a good location for such an operation, he tempered comments by saying, “We’re just in the planning phases to figure out exactly what that headquarters would do” and “ We don’t have a timeline yet for establishment. But once we get the planning in place, we’ll be able to have a better sense of when that’s going.”
Overall, he said, “We will work together with Japan and other like–minded nations committed to establishing norms of responsible behavior and deterring conflict for the safety, security, stability, and sustainability of the space domain.” Sources: Space Force official website, Air & Space Forces magazine, The Defense Post, SOFREP, YouTube.
Video: CSO Gen. Saltzman’s State of the USSF address
Speaking of Gen. Chance Saltzman, Air & Space Forces magazine has released the video of his “State of the Space Force” keynote address given to the Air, Space & Cyber Conference of September 11. The video runs below, and the transcript may be read here. Source: Vimeo.
SpaceX gets first–ever direct contract from Space Force
SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk have been so inextricably linked to the Space Force and its partners since the service was stood up 2019 that an announcement this week surely had some readers of mainstream media doing double takes. Nevertheless, SpaceX representatives announced this week that the company had won its first–ever contract from the USSF to provide customized satellite communication tech.
The contract makes Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (a.k.a. SpaceX) one of 16 companies in competition for some $900 million in work orders from the Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (p–LEO) program; the one–year deal is worth a maximum $70 million.
Terms of the SpaceX contract “provides for Starshield end–to–end service via the Starlink constellation, user terminals, ancillary equipment, network management and other related services,” according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek, who also informed Bloomberg News that the contract had been officially awarded on September 1. The lateness of the announcement has been speculated to be connected with controversy surrounding the involvement of the Starlink satellite network in the ongoing Russo–Ukrainian war.
Calling the agreement “historical,” business–centric news outlet Business Upturn contended in part that “The overall impact of SpaceX’s defense contract with the U.S. Space Force is multifaceted. On one hand, it showcases the growing synergy between the private sector and the military in space–related endeavors, promising enhanced satellite communication capabilities for the armed forces. This collaboration signifies a step forward in leveraging cutting–edge technology to bolster national security…” Sources: Bloomberg News, The Verge, Verdict UK, Business Upturn.
Rivada/Ariel win USSF p-LEO contract to build 600-satellite “OuterNet”
Rivada Space Networks has returned to defense contracting, as company representatives announced on Wednesday, September 27, that their company in partnership with network communication services provider Ariel LLC had been awarded a Commercial Satellite Communications Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (p-LEO) contract from the U.S. Space Force.
Rivada plans to install a 600-statellitle global broadband network called the “Outernet,” the concept being that all active data would originate and terminate within the on-orbit architecture, thereby massively reducing the threat of attacks. Rivada CEO has stated that he hopes the constellation will compete with Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper Systems.
The first satellite to make up the constellation is scheduled for launch in 2025, with global service planned to start in 2026.
Ed Spitler, Ariel’s head of Stacoms Programs, stated with the announcement that “The Rivada constellation brings a new level of security, performance and global reach that will enable our customers to not only expand their current networks but also address new market opportunities. We are excited to partner with Rivada to provide the next generation of secure connectivity.”
Ganley meanwhile stated in part that “OuterNet is a fully inter-connected space network which will become the technology of choice for secure data communications. [It] will solve essential connectivity and security challenges for government communications globally.”
Rivada has been unable to take on any new government contracts since 2020, as the company has been tied up in international litigation with Chinese interests over acquisition of the desired telecommunications bandwidth. However, a German governmental decision in mid-September disallowed Shanghai Spacecom Satellite Technology from acquiring controlling interest in the satellite bandwidth spectrum licensee, thus allowing Rivada access.
To carry out terms of the agreement, Rivada has signed a contract reportedly valued at $2.4 billion with Terran Orbital to manufacture the satellites, while SpaceX will be tasked with launches. Sources: Space Watch, Business Post, Ariel PR.
Xage Security gets $17 million contact from SSC for data protection
Wednesday, September 27, also saw an announcement from Xage Security Gov that the company had won a $17 million contract from Space Systems Command (SSC) to implement its zero-trust access control and data protection across SSC’s ground- and space-based architectures.
“Zero-trust” refers to a Department of Defense (DoD) high-priority cybersecurity strategy which includes risk management as part of its security features. Xage Security Gov is a subsidiary of Xage Security which specializes in federal government projects.
Under terms of the agreement, Xage Gov will deploy its Xage Fabric solution in promising to “provide the DoD with a resilient cybersecurity architecture for complex distributed environments.”
“Space is the final frontier of cybersecurity and a key arm of critical infrastructure that needs protection,” said Xage Security CEO Geoffrey Mattson. “For complex distributed environments, of which space is a demanding example, we’re answering the pressing need for local continuous operation, integrity of data, and identity protections for a mix of legacy and modern systems. Xage is the first to offer zero-trust data exchange and verification across operational, IT, and cloud environments. By working together with SSC, we will help secure the next generation of space-based critical defense infrastructure.” Sources: Defense Daily, Satellite Today, Xage Security PR.
Second NOAA weather satellite transferred to Space Force
A second National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) geostationary weather satellite has been transferred to the command of the Space Force. An agreement reached between NOAA and the Space Force in January called for NOAA satellites to replace those currently comprising the Electro-optical & infrared Weather Satellite (EWS) program.
The EWS-Geostationary satellites collect weather imagery above the Indian Ocean and were originally put into orbit by the NOAA as port of the now-defunct Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program in 2006. The EWS-G were under the auspices of the Air Force until this year.
Said Space System Command (SSC) Weather System Program Office material leader Lt. Col. Joseph L. Maguadog: “EWS-G is a prime example of innovation and the leveraging of partnerships. The repurposing of GOES-15 and residual NOAA ground equipment accomplished the mission at a fraction of the procurement cost of a brand-new system.”
The latest EWS-G acquisition is expected to reach its geostationary position in November and will provide weather coverage through 2030, while the first is slated to end service in February 2024. Source: Sat News.