A U.S. Air Force space squadron is realizing
significant manpower savings in the operation of military communications satellites through increased autonomy of the ground control systems, according to squadron officials.
The 3rd Space Operations Squadron used to have 36 people each day dedicated to the operation of the satellites, but drove that figure down to nine beginning in November, according to Air Force Col. Brent McArthur, squadron commander.
Doing so has enabled the squadron to divert some of the affected
to other missions within Air Force Space Command and service wide, McArthur said in a March 10 interview. The Air Force has been reducing its personnel levels since 2002 as part of an initiative to cut about 40,000 positions by the end of 2009 due to tight budgets.
The increased efficiency in communications satellite operations has come through the use of the Command and Control System-Consolidated (CCS-C), which automates the most labor-intensive commands involved in operating the spacecraft.
CCS-C was supplied
by Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., under an Air Force contract awarded in March 2002 that was initially expected to be
worth up to $118 million.
The system is used to control three existing
communications satellite systems –
Milstar, the Defense Satellite Communications System and
the Wideband Global Satcom System –
as well as the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites scheduled to begin launching in 2009.
While the term “transformation” may be an overused military buzzword, it is an appropriate description for the change in the way
the 3rd Space Operations Squadron is
controlling satellites, McArthur said. He compared the change to that which has taken place in the automobile industry. Cars
in the past
required extensive checks to see if they were operating properly, but now show a message light on their dashboards if there is an issue that requires attention, he said.
now is able to focus additional
like space surveillance
, rather than routine
satellite health checks that are analogous to checking the oil in a car
The cost savings in satellite operations associated with the CCS-C program are about $110,000 to $120,000 per person annually
, MacArthur said.
In addition to the reduced manpower
needed to operate the satellites, Space Command
now is looking at whether it is
possible to reduce associated support
staff such as
and redirect some of those resources to other space missions, McArthur said.
The CCS-C program also consolidates the number of ground systems used for satellite operations to a single one
This enables operators to move seamlessly from controlling one constellation to another without requiring lengthy training to do so, said Steve Roth, vice president for western programs in Integral Systems’ Colorado Springs, Colo., office.
While CCS-C was designed for operating communications satellites, it could
be used for
other satellite missions
, Roth said in a Feb. 20 interview. The operation of small satellites deployed as part of
the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space mission is one area that Integral is eyeing for more CCS-C business
, he said.
The CCS-C contract has helped drive an expansion of
Integral’s Colorado Springs office, which has grown from two people to
more than 100 in
the past several years, according to Jeff Benesh
, vice president for the western region in the government division in the Colorado Springs office.
At the time it won the CCS-C contract
, Integral had hoped
the program would be a springboard
to more NASA business
. Not much has materialized in that regard, but
Benesh said Integral
is providing software to the mission services center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and is hopeful that it will play a greater role in
the civil space program
in the future.
The competition for the ground segment of
the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R program could provide an opportunity for Integral to leverage its CCS-C work in the civil space sector
, Benesh said.
Integral’s CCS-C contract with the Air Force includes options that run through 2010, Benesh said. The company is
in negotiations with the Air Force on a possible extension, he said.
The current projected value of the contract is now $210 million, Roth said. The growth from the initial projection is due to factors including expanded capabilities that were not part of the original contract, and not issues with Integral’s performance, he said.