U.S. military space architecture to bring in commercial systems, small satellites

Space

WASHINGTON — Many of the satellites, ground infrastructure and information systems that the U.S. Space Force will buy in the future will be developed by the private sector, officials said Aug. 5.

Col. Russell Teehan, portfolio architect of the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, said commercially developed technologies will be part of the future capabilities of the U.S. Space Force.

Speaking on a SpaceNews online event, Teehan described a “notional operational architecture” for the systems and technologies that the U.S. Space Force envisions it will need in the future. The Space Force, which was established in December as the sixth branch of the U.S. military, is responsible to protect U.S. space assets and to provide space-based capabilities to U.S. and allied military forces.

The operational architecture has three key parts: space superiority, strategic effects and theater effects.

Space superiority is about providing “the eyes and ears” to understand what is going on in space so assets can be defended, Teehan said. That requires advanced sensors and surveillance systems that provide what is known as “space domain awareness.”

Strategic effects are capabilities like space-based early warning sensors that detect missile launches, nuclear command and control, and PNT (positioning, navigation and timing).

“The strategic architecture ensures that those layers are resilient and are able to be there during all phases of conflict,” said Teehan.

The theater effects are services provided by satellites such as communications, regional missile defense, surveillance and weather.

“That is where we are seeing significant rise in commercial, allied assets and smallsats,” said Teehan.

“There’s a lot of commercial activity within low Earth orbits, a lot of satcom, positioning, navigation and timing,” he said. Theater effects is “where we see opportunities for small sats innovation.”

Weather data is an example of an area where more commercial services are available, he said. The Space and Missile Systems Center is testing some of these services before it decides if it should invest in government-owned sensors.

There are also opportunities for commercial players to contribute to the “deep space architecture” which is not talked about a lot, said Teehan.

“Within the Space Force, an active line of effort is looking at capability that we can push to cislunar space,” he said. “And the reason we’re doing that is NASA is pushing to the moon and pushing to Mars.”

NASA’s goals are inspirational, said Teehan. “But as they go further out, what happens if there’s an anomaly? What happens if there’s an accident? What happens if if we need communications; and positioning, navigation and timing out in deep space?”

The Space and Missile Systems Center plans to fund technology demonstrations “to figure out if we have the communications, the navigation, the autonomy and the servicing capability that is likely going to be required as we head out into deeper space,” said Teehan. “All of that is a huge opportunity for innovation with smallsats, commercial and allies.”

Col. Joseph Roth, director of the innovation and prototyping directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center, said his office is working with dozens of government organizations and hundreds of companies to help identify candidate technologies.

“Our goal is to get a prototype from paper to prototype in 12 to 24 months and get that system up on orbit so we can test it,” Roth said during the SpaceNews webinar.

“We’re partnering with the Air Force Research Lab and other mission partners on experiments and smallsats and prototypes to develop a lot of new concepts,” Roth said.

Many of the ongoing experiments are for electro-optical infrared sensors, weather and missile defense.

Roth’s organization is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Blackjack program that is developing a low Earth orbit technology demonstration using small satellites.

“We want to partner on those early concepts and designs and experimentation to see if a proliferated LEO constellation is the answer,” Roth said. “We want to see if proliferated LEO could be that next generation program of record where we have lots of different modular payloads that we can put on those satellites.”

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