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Defence & Security | Technology

What is space resilience and how can we achieve it in the current fiscal climate?

15 Nov 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

The space domain is fraught with risks – from radiation, to supply chain worries, cyberattacks, and the kinetic and physical threat to ground and space infrastructure.

In this context, what does it mean to be resilient; and how can we best achieve it in the current fiscal climate?

Chris Jewell, Program Director for JP9102 at Lockheed Martin, believes resilience is based on several key tenets – some of which are counterintuitive.

Ahead of the ADM Space Summit, he shares his views with Informa Connect on what space resilience means.

Maximising the number of pathways messages can get to users

In its rawest sense, resilience for communication architectures is about maximising the pathways to deliver a message; along with the likelihood of those pathways continuing in the event of a crisis, said Mr Jewell.

“As an example, we need to think about asymmetric threats to our capabilities. In the Ukraine, the use of commercial drones and US / European missiles can neutralise expensive equipment like tanks, artillery, and aircraft at far less cost and time to acquire when compared to the systems they are combating.

“It is a huge concern for allied Governments, from Australia to the US and to Europe.”

Allied by design

Mr Jewell is a strong advocate for more collaborative approaches in the Australian space industry, whereby countries like the UK, US and Australia work together to develop complementary capabilities.

He says this can help industry avoid costly mistakes, like pursuing more competitive markets.

“For example, the decision to produce very large spacecraft structures, big solar arrays and large rockets may not be the right one. As a prime contractor, I always look to the best value option when making a selection on these and am not as concerned with which allied and friendly country they are manufactured – US, Europe, or Japan as examples.”

Resilience on the other hand is a good area for Australia to dip its toe in, he continued.

“Teaming up with inventors of small spacecraft buses and growing them into a company makes more sense than pursuing commoditised products.

Take Inovor Technologies based in Adelaide, South Australia, for example.

“How many times has the US tried to bring something back that has already gone to another country? It takes significant incentives to start and keep business there and sometimes you don’t always have them.

“Australia stands well to help build onto key areas of the integrated global space industry – in turn deepening links with allied counties and friends with new technologies and innovative products.

Docking next generation capabilities

The docking of next generation capabilities on existing vehicles is a key way to extend the usable shelf life of space-based assets and improve the resilience of those systems.

“If you make changes to a spacecraft architecture or the way it is serviced without altogether recreating it, that is definitely a win. Resilience shouldn’t be at the expense of mission capability – and it often is when you reinvent the wheel,” Mr Jewell said.

“Take mobile phones as an example. If you can make your current iPhone more secure without having to replace it, you avoid the time and cost burden of buying a new device with new apps and backup requirements. It’s much less disruptive.”

Mr Jewell admits this approach can be counterintuitive, given the excitement often attached to new equipment infrastructure. Even more so when considering the age of some existing military assets.

“Whenever you do anything new, there will be a lot of excitement for it. It is easy to get carried away by the capabilities of ‘state of the art’ anything that might touch a satellite or ground control system. But it is not always the right decision to pursue it.”

In some cases, though, the advantage outweighs the inconvenience and cost. In these cases, a more radical transformation is worthwhile.

“Sometimes the promise of a total product replacement is worth it. Using the phone example again – if you replace a Blackberry with an iPhone, you’ll no doubt miss the tactile keyboard, but it’s worth it for the extra and transformational capability. If the benefit was only marginal, it wouldn’t be.”

In a space context, the decision of whether or not to pursue diverse orbits with low earth orbit satellites presents a similar dilemma.

With the likes of SpaceX, Amazon and the US Government advancing this technology, Mr Jewell sees the value in its capability. However, he recognises that there are many issues we see industry commentators glaze over.

“I think we would agree there is a lot of capability there and we probably should have diverse orbits. However, we need to be mindful of the extra requirements involved,” he said.

“When we do a geosynchronous satellite, if it’s Ka-band, the filings to receive and broadcast are done degree by degree around the earth – 180 degrees east and 180 west. If it’s LEO, the vehicle is running relative to the Earth and complete global filings of that capability are needed, which are very difficult to get.

“Also, when you have a LEO running relative to the Earth, rising and falling like the sun, the user terminal has to track it. And that requires a whole new terminal systems. Not to mention the added ground infrastructure you need globally to maintain the system. These are just some of the difficulties you face when you change something as dramatic as where the satellite flies in orbit.”

So, as we work out the issues with newer approaches, we can still invest in making available technologies better.

Further insight

Chris Jewell is Program Director for the Defence Joint Project 9102, in which Lockheed Martin Australia is the preferred tenderer for this the next generation sovereign satellite communication component of the Australian Defence SATCOM System.

He will expand on this commentary at the upcoming ADM Space Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

The event will feature insights from Bec Shrimpton, Director of Defence Strategy and National Security at ASPI; and Sarah Free, Assistant Director of Business Innovation at the ACT Government.

The conference will be held 28 November at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra.

Learn more and register your place here.

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