US Military Struggles to Implement Commercial Augmentation of Satellite Control Network

According to various executives at the MilSat Symposium in California last week, the US military is not taking advantage of all the commercial services available for upgrading their ground stations. Most current military ground stations are decades old and are expected to run out of capacity in the near future as more and more military spacecraft are deployed to orbit. The Satellite Control Network (SCN) which the Space Force uses for mission operations relies heavily on ground infrastructure that many consider to be outdated. The SCN has been around since 1959. Many executives say that the Space Force’s problems could be better solved if they were willing to purchase services from commercial entities rather than seeking to acquire systems which can sometimes take many years. In this case it would be a ‘ground-stations-as-a-service’ model. There are many American companies with underutilized antennas that could be used to close the gap in the Space Force’s impending capacity shortage.

One executive, John Williams, CEO of Atlas Space Operations, made a particularly interesting remark regarding why the military seems hesitant to pull the trigger on this. He said, “The folks that are embedded in the bureaucracy are protecting their jobs and will find any reason they can to throw roadblocks in your path on this.” Another problem that was noted was inconsistent and outdated requirements. The DoD often wants to adhere to written standards and requirements that are severely outdated, and no commercial use case exists anymore to meet those requirements. Overall, there seems to be a disconnect between what the commercial space sector is capable of providing and what the DoD thinks that it wants.