Hosted Payloads Make It
An interview with Earl White, former Air Force Senior Executive and Intelligence Advisor at the United States Space Security and Defense Program.
In early March, the GovSat report editorial team had the opportunity to attend this year’s satellite industry conference in National Harbor, Maryland. One of the first panel discussions attended focused on the adoption of hosted payloads by the government and the military.
The panel was entitled, “Developments in the Adoption of Hosted Payload and Smallsats for Government Use,” and the presentation brought together industry leaders, government decision makers and members of the Hosted Payload Alliance (HPA). The discussion covered the benefits hosted payloads could deliver to government organizations, the challenges that hinder hosted payload adoption and matters that industry and government could do—together—to overcome those challenges.
One of the panel participants was Earl White, a former Air Force Senior Executive and Intelligence Advisor at the United States Space Security and Defense Program. Earl’s contributions to the panel discussion resonated well, as he spoke clearly and passionately about mutually-beneficial hosted payload programs that withered on the vine, and the reasons why—he believed—they failed.
He also asserted that he had a list of steps the industry could take to make hosted payload programs more viable, which he would then provide offline to those in the audience who were interested in his conclusions.
GovSat followed up with Earl following the conference to obtain his list and to obtain his opinion on the hosted payload state-of-affairs within military and government agencies.
GovSat Report (GSR)
In your panel discussion at SATELLITE 2016, you touched briefly on hosted payloads and their potential benefit to government and military organizations. Can you expand on that for our readers? Why should government agencies and military branches be looking at hosted payloads as an alternative? What can they deliver for these organizations?
As a career space intelligence officer, I see hosted payloads from a mission assurance perspective.
I’ve been following the development of counter-space threats for many years. Space is now a warfighting domain, not because of US actions ,but because of large investments from countries that are interested in negating the advantages the US has created through our use of space. As current systems providing essential services to warfighters and policy makers come under increasing risk, hosted payloads offer a way to quickly improve resiliency.
A second big advantage, of course, is the cost savings from leveraging large commercial investments in the bus and primary payloads.
Why do you feel we don’t see more successful hosted payload programs across the federal government? What keeps the government from embracing hosted payloads to fill more of their satellite and space requirements?
Hosted payload proposals seem to surface when a company has surplus SWAP (size, weight and power) in a future satellite system, and smart people see the opportunity to provide a useful service to the government. The proposals I’ve seen often have substantial cost advantages over current systems, and yet almost always fail.
There are several reasons. First, if the government needs a space-enabled service, there is probably an existing program of record to provide it. The program was competed and approved through a lengthy process that considered the available options. The best way for a hosted payload to be embraced is to participate in that acquisition process, which for the Department of Defense (DoD) means being considered in an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA).
Industry, however, operates on a much faster timeline than the government, and decisions on whether to fly a hosted payload often can’t wait on a multi-year government decision process. We just don’t have the decision or the funding processes in place to take advantage of the speed of the industry, and it’s getting even more critical with the emergence of New Space.
Second, the national security community must have confidence that the systems they use are going to be available when needed. It’s fairly easy to have confidence when buying a commodity such as COMSATCOM bandwidth, but it’s a much different calculus with a hosted payload. Here you have to understand the health of the company—will the bus and primary payload make enough money to continue operating? What happens if it doesn’t?
You have to have confidence in the cyber protection of a system you don’t control. You also need to know that primary commercial payload operations will not interfere with urgent government use of the secondary. We’ve seen examples of government-industry partnerships that work, but that isn’t yet a mainstream experience.
I think another reason is that national security space organizations like the NRO and Air Force Space Command have been extremely successful in what they do, and it’s a well-known business principle that the more successful a business, the more resistant to change. Why change what works?
Unfortunately, the threat environment is changing dramatically and what is successful today is not going to be good enough for tomorrow. Part of tomorrow’s solution—I’m convinced—is in hosted payloads. And the nation needs to learn how to leverage them effectively.
What can industry do to help increase the number of successful hosted payloads programs?
I can think of several things. Industry needs a strategic approach that matches an end user’s needs. For instance, industry might match their future capabilities against the list of missions that STRATCOM wants to protect, and focus on a mission where they can add resilience to the current capability. It may be cost advantageous to add resiliency to a current system over the government fielding an entirely new constellation.
Second, a company with Independent Research and Development (IRAD) funds might consider working a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the DoD or National Lab to develop payloads that meet future government needs. Some of the labs are aware of the future national security space needs and are always eager to get rides into space.
The most important things, however, require the cooperation of the government. Industry needs a much closer relationship with the acquirers and users of national security space. It is impractical for every company with SWAP to participate in an AoA, yet there needs to be a way for the government to understand and consider hosted payload options.
I’d recommend that industry look to the example of the Commercial Cell in the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC). This cell was created by an association of competing SATCOM companies to represent their operational capabilities to the JSPoC with a small footprint and without revealing proprietary information. I think this model might work with AoAs as well.
Finally, I think it’s important for industry to take note when they run into roadblocks to hosted payloads, and work with the government to define changes to regulations or laws. We are in a dynamic and increasingly dangerous environment. None of us can afford to let regulations or laws stand when they no longer serve our needs.
What does the government have to change and what does senior leadership have to do to increase the adoption of hosted payloads?
Today’s senior government space leaders understand the need for resilient systems and agile acquisitions and are already acting to make changes in their organizations.
You can see it in the National Geospatial Agency’s Commercial Imagery Strategy published last December. I’m particularly eager to see what comes out of AFSPC’s Space Enterprise Vision (SEV), which I believe is now in review at the OSD level. I hope and expect that the SEV will direct increasing consideration of hosted payloads, and will provide mechanisms to make that happen.
Still, the acquisitions organizations are going to need a great deal of industry help as they make the transition. I also see great promise in OSD’s Silicon Valley initiatives. They don’t yet address the New Space industry, but I’m hoping that the agile processes developed there will translate into much more agile space acquisitions—perhaps fast enough to match commercial decision making timelines.
Where do you see hosted payloads in the next five to ten years? Do you anticipate that the government will overcome these challenges and use them more extensively? If so, where do you see them having the most adoption and impact—for civilian agencies or the military?
I fully expect national security space to increasingly consider hosted payloads as options for resilience and cost savings. If they successfully build the needed processes—and industry responds with well-thought out, well-planned and well-designed options—we should see a real increase in the number of hosted payloads flying in the next decade.
The large LEO cross-linked constellations now in development would offer amazing opportunities for hosting government payloads, and are particularly attractive when integrated with traditional GEO ComSats. It’s very easy for me to see opportunities in tactical ISR, missile warning, weather, secure communications and space situational awareness.
There are many that could add a great deal of resiliency to national security space. The key is getting the government to engage early enough with requirements for security and command and control, and to think through all the regulatory and funding hurdles well in advance.
This article is republished, courtesy of GovSat Report (ses-gs.com/govsat), and Executive Editor Ryan Schradin. He is a communications expert and journalist with more than a decade of experience and has edited and contributed to multiple, popular, online trade publications that are focused on government technology, satellite, unified communications and network infrastructure. His work includes editing and writing for the GovSat Report, The Modern Network, Public Sector View, and Cloud Sprawl.
His work for the GovSat Report includes editing content, establishing editorial direction, contributing articles about satellite news and trends, and conducting written and podcast interviews. Ryan also contributes to the publication’s industry event and conference coverage, providing in-depth reporting from leading satellite shows.
The GovSat Report is sponsored by SES Government Solutions (ses-gs.com/govsat).
The Capacity Is Coming
An overarching theme at one of this year’s satellite industry events was technological “disruption.” The theme wasn’t negative, as in satellite disruption from jamming or interference—although that was discussed at length—but rather optimistic in evaluating disruptive technologies that are going to shake up the industry and impact how the satellite industry operates.
High-throughput satellites (HTS) were atop the list of disruptive technologies that were discussed at this event.
Every major satellite operator either has launched—or is in the process of launching—HTS satellite constellations. This new generation of satellites has the potential to deliver incredible capabilities and benefits to government agencies, military services and other users simply due to its incredible increase in bandwidth resulting from its ability to take advantage of frequency reuse. This means that each individual satellite can deliver exponentially more data at incredibly higher throughputs than traditional, wideband satellites.
This is extremely essential for military and civilian government organizations, whose demand for reliable connectivity extends beyond the reach of terrestrial networks and out into the field where SATCOM connectivity is the most viable option. HTS enables a high-speed, high-bandwidth experience that is accessible in even the most austere environments. HTS also enables many of the advanced capabilities the military needs in the field, including the delivery of high-quality, real-time intelligence data.
This need was echoed in the remarks of Aneal Krishman, who serves as a Principal at Veritas Capital and also served in Iraq as an infantryman with the US Army Reserve. During a panel discussion entitled “Disruptions and Opportunities: MilSatCom and ComSatCom in Both Space and Ground Segments,” Aneal said, “In Iraq, most of the bandwidth we were using and the technology that was set up, was over commercial networks that were dedicated to the government... for example, the drone program...”
But why is HTS considered disruptive? The answer lies in the cumulative launch of HTS satellites across the industry and the government’s corresponding ability to leverage the advanced capabilities. In some cases, one single HTS satellite can deliver the same capacity as an entire constellation of traditional, wide-band GEO satellites. The result will be the government’s ability to acquire more satellite bandwidth, capacity and capabilities without having to increase spending.
That disruption is important to the evolution of our national space architecture, especially today. Discretionary government funding for social programs, military modernization and homeland security priorities has proven to be limited, leaving many to cut back their spending and reprioritize where they’re putting scarce budget dollars. Leaders on the various panels certainly recognized fiscal realities and were actively engaged in discussions on how best to leverage the commercial market.
Pete Hoene, CEO of SES GS, discussed the role HTS will play in making high bandwidth IT capabilities available to the military.
Cost efficiencies and budgets aside, there are other benefits to leveraging commercial HTS constellations. One of which is the ability to use this technology sooner.
COMSATCOM providers actively replenish their respective satellite fleets. This means that they’re constantly ordering, provisioning and launching new satellites with exciting new capabilities and innovative new technologies. This includes new HTS constellations that are now either launched or will be launched in the very near future.
The same innovative HTS technologies are available to the government through the satellite manufacturers, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and SSL. However, by the time they allocate budget dollars, compete contracts, select vendors, build satellites, schedule launch and bring that satellite online, years could have passed.
In those years in which the government was, “building it themselves,” there was most likely a similar satellite being built and launched – or already operated—by a COMSATCOM company. Simply put, integrating COMSATCOM into a wider architecture will facilitate technology insertion at commercial industry’s pace and deliver HTS technology to the military—and the advanced capabilities it delivers to the warfighter—much sooner.
This isn’t just sentiment or verbiage espoused solely by the COMSATCOM industry and service providers. Military decision makers have openly acknowledged their inability to keep pace with the COMSATCOM industry.
In fact, Doug Loverro, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy at the Department of Defense (DoD), was quoted as saying, “In order to keep pace with the ever-expanding user need. And the users are incorporating new technologies—video, Internet, streaming services and more we haven’t thought of yet—as fast as the commercial world produces them on the ground. We can’t go ahead and maintain that pace of change in space. The only people that can maintain that rate of change in space is the commercial world.”
Mr. Loverro went on to identify many of the aforementioned economic and process challenges as contributing factors to this disparity between government and industry, citing the WGS satellite constellation as an example, “[The DoD] defined WGS in the 1996 budget that we submitted to the President. That system was defined twenty years ago. The systems that are being launched by the commercial world today were defined two years ago…three years ago. They’re not subject to the bureaucratic process and – quite frankly – the economic process that drive DoD decision makers. And that’s critical because it allows new technology to be ingested.”
The commercial satellite industry has proven quick to integrate leading edge technology into their fleets without significant delay The coming disruption of HTS will enable a broader range of COMSATCOM services and solutions to the government – all available at competitive price points.
This trade event reinforced that this is truly an exciting time for the use of COMSATCOM across the military and federal government. The emergence of HTS technology and the launch of next generation HTS constellations will provide the bandwidth necessary for truly revolutionary IT services as well as improved capabilities in the field and will do so at drastically reduced cost.
The pace at which industry moves will expedite the availability of bandwidth, capacity and advanced capabilities to end users—delivering the connectivity of the future to the tip of the spear today.
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