GAO Report on SCN Sustainment

The Satellite Control Network (SCN) is a system of 19 ground antennas across seven sites around the world providing telemetry, tracking, and commanding of U.S. government satellites. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a report discussing current and future sustainment efforts for the SCN, which maintained an average 75% utilization rate over the last decade, exceeding industry standards. According to GAO, “Space Force is seeking additional SCN capability by exploring the use of commercial antennas and those operated by other federal agencies.”

GAO found that an outdated infrastructure is one of the sustainment challenges driving high annual maintenance costs, as high as $90.2M in 2021 alone, and should be more. While the Space Force is driving external support to the SCN, it is looking internally at other major efforts to modernize the SCN. The remote tracking station block change project is an effort two decades in the making to “update the existing electronics on the network’s ground control computers and antennas, much of which has been in place since the 1980s.”  This reconfiguration with modern technology will “reduce the footprint of electronic equipment by about 80% by reducing the number of modems, decoders, and data processors.”

It seems like this effort should’ve been completed long ago, but the Space Force is only recently receiving its fair share of funding to make these modernization efforts after becoming its own service branch. Upgrading the internal infrastructure should be crucial for implementing cybersecurity protections, which likely were very little from extremely outdated equipment. Though now better protected, more ground systems are needed for the number of satellites coming online in the near future.

In the same report, GAO confirms that the Space Force is still not utilizing Commercial Augmentation Services for augmenting SCN, citing the need for the commercial entities to individually meet cybersecurity requirements and approvals. This again foot stomps the increased awareness to cybersecurity from the Space Force and should mean the effort for upgrading the SCN is being taken seriously.

Full report (pdf) at bottom of page was utilized.