Congress slipped an extra pair of WGS satellites into the 2018 omnibus bill. Credit: Boeing

WASHINGTON — The Defense Innovation Unit in a new solicitation is asking space and information-technology companies for ideas on how to build a “hybrid architecture” of government and commercial satellites. 

“The Department of Defense seeks a hybrid space architecture to integrate emergent commercial space sensor and communications capabilities with U.S. government space systems while incorporating best-in-class commercial practices to secure and defend the network across multiple domains,” DIU says in the request. Submissions are due Oct. 18. 

DIU works with commercial companies to address DoD technology needs. It awards contracts for studies and prototypes that, if successful, transition to larger programs. 

The idea of a hybrid architecture that brings together commercial and government satellites has been talked about for years but there is still no plan for how to exactly do that. The U.S. military is a large consumer of commercial satellite services for communications, imagery, weather and other capabilities. DoD operates its own satellites and is looking for ways to access commercial capacity when needed.

A hybrid architecture would give DoD more flexibility to access commercial systems during conflicts if U.S. satellites came under attack.

“This architecture must be demonstrated as a payload (hosted or bespoke) capable of communicating across disparate government and commercial networks,” DIU says.

Specific requirements listed by DIU: 

  • Data transport across multiple networks at multiple classification levels without compromising information assurance or cybersecurity. 
  • A variable trust protocol so users can adjust trust factors commensurate with risk or mission application. High trust may be required for weapons employment. 
  • Fuse data from multiple sources of intelligence available to the U.S. government now and in the future. 
  • Develop analytics tools that are compatible with multiple sources of commercial and government data.

The solicitation says DIU encourages participation from commercial satellite manufacturers, systems integrators and information technology companies specializing in software defined network architecture design.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...