Followers of satellite technology couldn’t help but get their fill of information in Space Force–centered news this week. USSF CSO Gen. Chance Saltzman outlined the latest on Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve (CASR) plans and the resilience of America’s low Earth orbit constellations while MilSat Symposium 2023 attendees got the lowdown on the SSC’s burgeoning Resilient Missile Warning/Missile Tracking constellation.
We’ve got these stories, plus tell of contract wins, a key Critical Design Review, one Guardian’s most unique honor and more in this week’s Space Force news.
Saltzman chats up civilian Space Reserve, overclassification, pLEO constellation resilience
US Space Force Chief of Space Operations (CSO) Gen. Chance Saltzman has been making the rounds lately to comment on the status of various USSF operations and plans, and this week was no exception.
Saltzman participated in a “virtual fireside chat” event at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on Wednesday, October 18, speaking with moderator Dr. Stacy Pettijohn of the CNAS and detailing quite a bit of information on the service’s future.
Probably the most attention–grabbing of Saltzman’s comments within the media were those regarding the Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve (CASR), a private–sector partnership which would provide military forces with immediate access to commercial services in national security emergencies.
Saltzman stated that the CASR had already been approved by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and, once established, “would pre–work the contract vehicles, stating how we would get access to services rapidly if we needed to, so that when the crisis occurs, we don’t then start the contracting action and we’ve already done a lot of that legwork.”
An earlier project plan for the CASR was submitted to him, Saltzman said, but he asked for a redo in order to “provide some tangible guidance that I think industry is looking to get from us.”
In the previous draft, Saltzman wanted answers to questions such as “Do we procure data the same way we procure software? Are we looking for commercial services or are we looking for commercial assets to be operated by the government? And how do we decide what are the inherently governmental functions that have to be performed by the Space Force, versus services I could outsource? We didn’t have really good solid answers.”
“I just felt like it was important that we answered those questions first[…] It’s about getting to the next level of specificity.”
At just about the same time that Saltzman was guesting at the CNAS, Space System Command (SSC) commander Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein spoke at the AFCEA Space Industry Days conference; he reported that funding for CASR would make up part of the 2025 and 2026 USSF budget requests.
“A commercially augmented space reserve is about building capacity for times of crisis or conflict during peacetime,” Guetlein stated. “How do I build in the business processes, the relationships, the exercises, the funding during peacetime, so during times of crisis or conflict, we don’t start with [a request for proposals] as our point of departure.”
“We’re hoping that it will be rolled out by the administration this fall, and then the funding will start to roll behind in the 2025 or 2026 timeframe.”
Guetlein also touched upon Saltzman’s requested rewrite of the draft proposal: According to him, the first draft “wasn’t aggressive enough … So [Saltzman] asked General Garrant to go back and rewrite that plan to be more aggressive, to get after better partnerships, stronger partnerships.”
Meanwhile, back at the CNAS, Saltzman addressed the current hot topic of overclassification. While the general sees many areas in which lowering classification levels of Space Force–based information would assist particularly in areas of acquisition.
“What everybody that is trying to think about this problem should recognize is how complex the fabric of security is,” he said. “It is a layering and layering of security rules, guidelines, policies, laws, that make it really hard to say ’just change the classification of that.’”
Toward solving the problem, “The major effort that we’ve done recently on that is called Special Access Programs, where the Air Force, in particular, has a great many compartments and it’s hard to move across them. [For] the work we were doing on the operational imperatives, we had to go do an extensive amount of bureaucratic work to allow people just to talk to each other so they could share information.”
Nevertheless, Saltzman sees progress on this front, saying that even discussing Chinese technological advances in a public forum like the virtual fireside chat would have been seen as a breach of security protocol and few years ago. At present, “We’re really looking for low–hanging fruit, quite frankly, and any time we can drop something from special access to top–secret, we’re taking advantage of that. Any time we can drop something from top secret to secret, we’re taking advantage of that, because it opens up opportunities.”
And once again did the subject of satellite communications in the Russia–Ukraine war come up, with Saltzman opining that the US’ proliferated Low Earth Orbit (pLEO) constellations are “demonstrating that they can endure and adapt to adversary assaults.”
“We are seeing evidence that proliferated Low–Earth Orbit constellations are resilient against attack,” he said. “We are seeing it in Ukraine. There’s just evidence of it. We knew that to be the case, theoretically. It’s nice to get combat feedback that says we’re on the right path. We are investing heavily to take our ’no fail’ missions like missile warning and nuclear command–and–control and making sure that we are putting together resilient architectures that create targeting problems that our current capabilities don’t have. We think [that will] not only be more resilient but have a deterrent effect on even trying to dismantle those missions.”
Details on SSC MEO constellations given at MilSat Symposium
Speaking at the 2023 MilSat Symposium on Thursday, October 19, Col. Heather Bogstie, senior materiel leader at Space Systems Command (SSC) Resilient Missile Warning, Tracking & Defense (MWTD) acquisition delta, detailed the progress and plans for the SSC’s medium Earth orbit (MEO) constellations.
The Resilient Missile Warning/Missile Tracking constellation is currently in development, according to Bogstie and will include “new capabilities being placed on orbit every two to three years.”
“We can’t wait for perfect technology to be delivered on orbit every 10 years,” she told symposium attendees.
Epoch 1, the first stage of MEO satellite constellation upgrades, is underway, with Raytheon Intelligence & Space, Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems contracted and L3Harris Technologies contracted to design and build prototypes.
Said Bogstie: “Our first delivery is Epoch 1, launching at the end of 2026. We will field nine satellites across two planes. These sensors will give us the latest in missile–warning and –tracking capabilities in several regions of the globe.”
“Epoch 2 will then deliver four additional planes of satellites, bringing us to a total of six planes and approximately 27 satellites. This configuration will become our baseline set of operational capabilities and give us coverage over the entire globe.”
Epoch 2 is focused on “maturation of MW/MT sensors, optical crosslinks, data fusion, constellation mission management, [and] robust ground communication.” Contracts to build 18 Epoch 2 medium Earth orbit (MEO) missile–tracking satellites are scheduled to be awarded in late 2024/early 2025.
Finally, Epoch 3 will ultimately upgrade Epoch 1 tech in the 2030s “with two new planes and satellites with newer fresh technology aimed at persistent simultaneous tracking and warning,” stated Bogstie.
“Low latency is critical to enabling rapid reaction times and accurate target data,” she said. “Throughout the course of flight, our data is fused with other missile warning and tracking data, and provided to operators who will make sense of it. These operators rely on extremely accurate data to ensure they have properly characterized the missile type, its origin and its intended target. Finally, this target quality data will be used to engage our defensive systems and defeat these threats.”
Finally, Bogstie spoke of developing a robust ground system: “We are striving to have it fully in place one year before, not after, we launch [Epoch 1] satellites. We are actively fielding multiple ground relay stations around the globe and [are] working with our mission partners to be ready to ingest and fuse our new data.” Sources: Breaking Defense, MilSat Symposium official website.
Northrop Gruman completes critical design review for RGS Asia
Representatives of Northrop Grumman Corporation announced on Thursday, October 19, that their company with the assistance of L3 Harris Technologies had successfully completed a Critical Design Review (CDR) for Relay Ground Station–Asia (RGS–A). The contract had been issued by the US Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific on behalf of Space Systems Command (SSC) to support operation of missile–warning satellites.
The CDR included subsystem designs, verification plans, methodology, and final details of the system integration at the deployed location in Guam; its completion marked the final step to ensure that SSC’s scheduled transformation and upgrade of the extant Pacific region missile–warning system to the Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE) system in 2025.
Northrop Grumman operational exploitation systems director Calvin Pennamon stated in announcement that “Completing this CDR ahead of schedule showcases our commitment and ability to quickly respond to the NIWC Pacific’s pressing schedule requirements. We are on track to revolutionize current Space–Based Infrared System (SBIRS) and Next–Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) missile–warning constellation infrastructure with a much–needed capability in the Pacific region.” Sources: Military Embedded Systems, Northrop Grumman PR.
Guardian becomes first–ever to earn USCG Arctic Service Medal
Congratulations go out to USSF Capt. Henry Cho, who this week became the first–ever Guardian to be awarded the Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal. Cho earned the honor by serving for three weeks on the USCG Cutter Healy in the Arctic.
Cho’s mission involved experiments with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s recently developed ionospheric sounder, and was a collaboration among the AFRL, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the USCG Research & Development Center.
Senior research physicist Dr. Jeffrey Holmes of the AFRL stated that “Capt. Cho was an indispensable member of AFRL’s Flex Sounder team, as he was the key operator of the instrument aboard the Healy. He proved to be a quick learner and an adept troubleshooter. Capt. Cho’s efforts helped the team secure rare and valuable data that will be used in the coming years to plan next–generation high latitude ionospheric impacts solutions for the warfighter.”
Upon reception of the honor, Cho said “I never imagined I’d have this opportunity when I joined the Space Force, but it’s humbling to pave the way forward for my fellow Guardians. I appreciate the opportunity to travel and see the spectacular views of the Arctic region onboard the Healy while assisting with monitoring our experiment onboard.”
Cho currently serves as Space Sensors Development lead engineer in the AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate.
In an interview, Cho explained that “At AFRL, I work on multiple projects, all related to atmosphere characterization. In research and development, every step has a learning curve because in a large sense, research and development involves trying new things for the first time, such as designing and building something new — new processes, new materials, new design — so a lot of time is spent reading, thinking, and writing. But eventually we have to implement and be comfortable with taking a risk on some level of ambiguity.”
Cho further said “I never imagined I’d have this opportunity when I joined the Space Force, but it’s humbling to pave the way forward for my fellow Guardians. I appreciate the opportunity to travel and see the spectacular views of the Arctic region onboard the Healy while assisting with monitoring our experiment onboard.” Sources: Homeland Security Today, Air Force Command official website.
SES Space & Defense wins pLEO COMSATCOM contract
Representatives of SES Space & Defense announced on Friday, October 20, that their company had been awarded a a five–year, Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract from the USSF for proliferated Low Earth Orbit (pLEO) satellite–based services (SBS) through the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization (DITCO).
“The pLEO IDIQ is the first multiple award contract to deliver pLEO COMSATCOM services to the government and military,” stated SES CEO/president David Fields. “The contract structure is part of the US Space Force’s new approach to acquiring SATCOM. These awards are foundational for COMSATCOM integration and proliferation into new waveforms and orbits enabling connectivity and communication at the tactical edge.” Source: Satellite Today.
15th Cyberspace Squadron officially established at NSDC
The 15th Cyberspace Squadron (CyS) was stood up at the National Space Defense Center (NSDC) on Friday, October 20, in an official ceremony, and USSF Lt. Col. Megan Belger assumed command of the squadron.
Establishment of the 15th represents the final subordinate squadron of Space Delta 15, and its mission is defined as “to conduct intelligence–driven cyberspace defensive operations with mission partners to assure the NSDC’s mission by identifying, preventing denying, and eliminating threats.”
NSDC director/Space Delta 15 commander said at the ceremony that “This new squadron will rally to the hunt and forge the spirit of defense for the Delta. The 15th CyS will be lifted up as the vision for which our Guardian defenders strive toward. Our war dogs will clear the path to space superiority and the defense of our nation.”
Said Belger, “It is an honor to help lay the foundation for the USSF’s first truly integrated Delta. The 15th CYS will employ integrated cyber defense operations to safeguard and enhance space–to–space operations in a contested environment. I want to create an environment where Guardians fight to become part of this united and empowered team.” Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.