Engineers at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) is preparing to move ahead on a U.S. Air Force contract for space-based logistics management support. In doing so, it faces a unique set of challenges.
SAIC in June was awarded a $36 million task order by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Logistics Directorate. Under the contract the company will provide engineering and budgeting analysis as well as evaluation of sustainment issues.
SAIC will be making recommendations on a range of space-based systems, including missile warning systems, military communications and defense weather satellites. The contractor will deliver immediate technical assistance, examine structural issues within systems and make recommendations regarding training and other facets of these systems.
The physical divide between terrestrial consultants and orbital satellites will likely present an exceptional set of challenges. “Once the satellites are launched, they are there. You can’t go up and fix a satellite,” said Robert Vasquez, SAIC’s senior vice president of National Security Space.
In some sense, logistical challenges in space mirror those on the ground. With respect to parts availability, for instance, it’s not uncommon for logisticians to be tasked with replacing a worn-out part, only to discover that part is no longer in production.
On Earth, operators have some leeway. It’s possible to find some alternative for fitting the pieces together. In space, those options are cut in half.
Marc Dippold, SAIC vice president and space division manager, compared it to finding parts for an airplane.
“In a terrestrial setting the solution might be to buy a new part for the terminal and another part for the airplane, and the two new parts would be able to talk to each other,” he said. In space, “we only have access to half the system.”
Then there is the additional complication of a parts market aimed primarily at an Earth-bound clientele. “The issue is scope. It’s much easier to find equipment, components and systems that are designed for air-breathing applications, because there are so many more of them,” Vasquez said.
While facing these challenges, the contractor also will be tasked with finding ways to extend the longevity of satellites while minimizing maintenance costs. “One of the pressures the space systems in general are facing is that there are fewer starts of new programs, which means the life cycles for existing ones have to be extended,” Vasquez said.
SAIC has been providing space-based consulting to the Air Force on a range of systems, including missile warning systems, for more than five years. That experience will help the contractor overcome the myriad complexities of logistics beyond the atmosphere, Vasquez said. “You can train someone to do this, but there is a lot of value in having that built in intuition, those years of almost subconscious experience.”