WASHINGTON — As U.S. Space Command eyes a future where satellites are designed to maneuver in space, the Space Force’s rapid acquisition team is working to ensure the service’s ground infrastructure is ready to operate those systems.
Led by the Space Rapid Capabilities Office — a Space Force acquisition organization created to deliver high-need capabilities on fast timelines ― the Rapid Resilient Command and Control program, or R2C2, aims to develop and integrate a modernized suite of tools to operate those more mobile satellites.
R2C2 builds on two previous efforts: the Space RCO’s Ground Command, Control and Communications program; and Space Systems Command’s Enterprise Ground Services program.
EGS in particular sought to bring together the Space Force’s disparate network of ground command-and-control systems, but according to the director of the Space RCO’s strategic capabilities acquisition delta, Col. Greg Hoffman, its scope was too broad.
In an attempt to narrow the program’s focus and deliver the capability more quickly, the Space Force’s top acquisition official, Frank Calvelli, shifted the program to the Space RCO in February.
“EGS was so broadly focused that it drove complexity,” Hoffman told C4ISRNET in an Aug. 1 interview. “With R2C2, we’re focused explicitly and very directly on dynamic space operations.”
Dynamic space operations is the term Space Command uses to describe a growing need for satellites to be able to maneuver away from threats like debris or toward objects the U.S. may want to observe more closely. That’s a departure from today’s spacecraft, most of which are designed to remain in a specific orbital position throughout their service life.
The transition to dynamic space operations will require new satellite designs that include larger fuel tanks and ports for refueling or maintenance as well as spacecraft and other in-orbit infrastructure to provide those services.
With Space Command’s requirements in mind, the Space Force plans to demonstrate in-orbit refueling during a test mission slated for 2025. The National Reconnaissance Office is also planning a 2024 mission to showcase in-space servicing and life-extension capabilities, announcing this week it has partnered with Texas-based Firefly Aerospace for the demonstration.
While a lot of emphasis has been put on those space-based requirements, Hoffman said modernizing the supporting ground architecture is an important part of shifting to dynamic space operations. Having the ability to quickly maneuver and communicate with other satellites and ground control systems requires more antennas, better software and resilient communication pathways, he added.
“We’re really transforming a legacy architecture that is focused on positional satellite operations,” he said. “We’re transforming it to enable dynamic space operations.”
The Space RCO is still working to determine the structure of R2C2. Since the program office was formed in February, the team has reached out to commercial companies and more traditional defense firms as it considers how to acquire the software and hardware it needs, Hoffman said.
In mid-July, the program held an industry day at the organization’s headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to receive feedback from small businesses. By this fall, Hoffman said, the program will solidify its strategy and move quickly to begin delivering capabilities.
He envisions R2C2 as a system of systems that connects the various ground elements that support satellite operations, and emphasized that commercial software tools will likely play a significant role in the program.
“As part of our multiple strategies that we’re evaluating right now, we’re looking at small businesses, nontraditional businesses, commercial approaches — whatever is available right now that we can leverage to move quickly,” he said.
The Space RCO also plans to work closely with space operators to inform the software and tools R2C2 will provide.
“We can build the best ground system with the most responsive software-patching and -fix process ever, but we really need those testers and those operators involved, and having them involved early is key,” Hoffman said. “It’s part of the Space RCO culture, and it is foundational to R2C2.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.