House Power Satellite tv for pc Management Community Is In Pressing Want of Upgrades, Watchdog Says

The House Power system for controlling U.S. authorities satellites is in pressing want of an replace, and the department additionally wants an up-to-date plan for delivering it, the Authorities Accountability Workplace stated in a report printed April 10.

The Satellite tv for pc Management Community (SCN) is made up of 19 antennas stationed all over the world, from Diego Garcia Island within the Indian Ocean to the village of Oakhanger in southern England to Schriever House Power Base, Colo., the place the first management heart for SCN is positioned.

SCN operators use the antennas to trace a satellite tv for pc’s location, accumulate its well being and standing experiences, and ship alerts to manage its subsystems equivalent to energy provide, antennas and mechanical and thermal management. These capabilities are collectively known as monitoring, telemetry, and commanding (TT&C), and satellite tv for pc customers throughout the federal authorities depend on the House Power’s SCN operators for TT&C assist.

The satellites managed by the SCN assist a variety of essential actions equivalent to positioning, navigation, and timing; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; missile warning and missile protection; communications; climate; and analysis and growth, the GAO famous in its report. However as area turns into more and more crowded with authorities satellites, the rising demand for SCN operations has fallen on an getting old antenna community that’s troublesome to keep up and too small to satisfy the necessity. 

“The SCN makes over 450 day by day contacts with satellites,” GAO wrote. “Satellite tv for pc customers who depend on the SCN and whom GAO interviewed stated that this elevated demand, and ensuing limits on system availability, might compromise their missions sooner or later.”

The issue is just not new to the Division of Protection, which has identified of the challenges going through SCN capability since at the very least 2011, the GAO wrote. The army even developed a plan in 2017 for the long-term sustainment of SCN. Nevertheless, the massive reorganization of the army’s area authorities that occurred after House Power was launched in late 2019 meant that the Life-Cycle Sustainment Plan (LCSP) is in want of an replace to match the present organizational construction. The House Power initially estimated an replace the LCSP would arrive by the autumn of 2022, however that replace is but to materialize.

“With out updating the LCSP for the SCN in a well timed style, House Power won’t have ample info to appropriately plan and price range SCN sustainment efforts sooner or later,” the report states.

The twenty third House Operations Squadron operates the biggest of eight international U.S. Air Power Satellite tv for pc Management Community distant monitoring stations at New Boston House Power Station, N.H., Sept. 16, 2022. U.S. House Power photograph by Airman 1st Class Kaitlin Castillo.

A part of the problem affecting the SCN in the present day is that its antennas can keep contact with just one satellite tv for pc at a time, and never for very lengthy earlier than the satellite tv for pc passes over the horizon and out of contact, as Air & House Forces Journal has beforehand reported.

This has led to a scheduling system the place SCN customers contact the House Power’s twenty second House Operations Squadron to request a contact time, and the twenty second SOPS makes use of a prioritization matrix to schedule a time and assign operators from the  twenty first or twenty third House Operations Squadrons to hold out the contact, the GAO report notes.

The issue is that as demand for SCN assist grows and provide of contact occasions doesn’t hold tempo, scheduling conflicts happen and are exacerbated by sudden outages, upkeep wants, or emergencies like recovering a satellite tv for pc that has drifted out of its deliberate orbit. There have been 15,780 scheduling conflicts from January 2021 by June 2022 alone, GAO famous. And because the present antenna infrastructure ages, SCN operators have to decide on between upkeep wants and satisfying demand. Deferred upkeep can result in antenna failures, certainly one of which lasted 18 months earlier than it might be restored to perform.

Outdated infrastructure additional aggravates the issue. The House Power has needed to pay a producer to create a manufacturing line for making alternative elements for out of date SCN gear, GAO famous, and department officers at Schriever House Power Base, the first management heart for SCN, stated the ability infrastructure there may be so outdated that “efforts to keep up present operations on the base are unsustainable and mitigation efforts are near exhausted.”

Learn how to repair it

The House Power is conscious of its rising SCN downside and has a number of efforts for fixing it. One effort is known as the Satellite tv for pc Communication Augmentation Useful resource (SCAR), a phased-array antenna that might permit every antenna to contact 18 to twenty totally different satellites on the similar time quite than the one-at-a-time restrict imposed by in the present day’s parabolic SCN antennas. It will additionally price much less to function the SCAR system, however the know-how requires additional growth, a prototype is just not anticipated till 2025, and operational items will not be obtainable till the 2030s.

Within the meantime, the House Power is working to develop SCN capability and make SCN scheduling extra environment friendly. These embody utilizing 5 Nationwide Oceana and Atmospheric Administration antennas to assist increase capability, although it can take till the top of fiscal yr 2024 for needed upgrades to be completed. The House Power can be exploring utilizing business antennas to extend SCN capability, although the variety of business antennas obtainable would rely upon what number of might meet authorities bandwidth and cybersecurity necessities.

In the meantime, the House Power can be seeking to make its scheduling system extra environment friendly by changing its present “guide and labor-intensive course of” with a cloud-based system, GAO wrote. The department additionally plans on yanking out 80 % of the present variety of outdated modems, decoders, and knowledge processors and changing them with new, lower-footprint methods that might lower down on upkeep time by 20 to 25 %.

Nevertheless, a few of these adjustments had been included within the 2017 Life-Cycle Sustainment Plan (LCSP), and the GAO report authors fear that might throw off the House Power’s implementation of the plan. Department officers say an ongoing problem has been delineating between headquarters employees and subject instructions as to who’s accountable for the general SCN structure and the way these accountable can assess new methods or increase the present structure, the report states.

Although the House Power is engaged on an replace for the plan, officers say it has been delayed attributable to causes “together with updating SCN price range info and an unclear course of to finalize the LCSP,” the GAO wrote.

The necessity to finalize and implement the plan is pressing because the House Power expects the variety of satellites requiring SCN contacts to greater than double between 2019 and 2027.