Safeguarding Space: Q&A with Kristin Robertson of RIS
Kristin Robertson of Raytheon Intelligence & Space explains why space is critical to life on Earth—and how innovation by industry will help protect it.
Compared to life on Earth—cumbersome, chaotic, combative—life in space seems remarkably quiet and calm. Peaceful, even, if not for the overwhelmingness of its reach.
But past is not necessarily prologue. Just because space has always been a still and neutral void does not mean that it will always be so. In fact, current trends in technology, science and geopolitics suggest that space is on the verge of inevitable transformation. What once was a bastion of international cooperation and exploration might soon become a hotbed of conflict and discord.
If that happens, the United States must be ready to defend its interests in space, and the integrity of the space landscape at large, says Kristin Robertson, president of Space & C2 Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. In advance of the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., she shared her expectations for the event, her passion for the industry, and her commitment to space-based innovation and defense.
What are you most looking forward to at Space Symposium?
I am very much looking forward to seeing our partners in industry and to talking with our customers. Given all that’s going on in the world right now, and the rapidly changing landscape that’s unfolding in front of us in space, it’s so important for me to get their perspectives. Because recent events and conversations have made it clear: Space is where the fight is going. It’s a congested, contested environment, and we as an industry have got to be prepared to protect it in order to outpace the threats of tomorrow.
For more than two years, virtual connections have been the norm. Given the dynamic nature of space, how important is it to be able to connect in person?
I’ll say it in three words: speed of relevance. When you can connect face-to-face, you can collaborate in multidimensional ways, and you can do it fast. And that’s what we need in order to stay ahead of the threat and to protect our freedom and economic prosperity.
Innovation in space is essential. Where do you see the biggest opportunities?
One place where I see a lot of innovation within our business is taking existing technologies (instruments and systems) that we’ve perfected over time and using them in different ways for different missions. For example, we’re giving our customers more resilient, redundant, layered sensing architectures in space by leveraging core space-based sensing products that have a robust pedigree. They are mature, proven and low risk. And we continue to develop different applications for those sensors. For example, we can use these “affordable and ready” systems to track ballistic and hypersonic threats—and can observe, classify, and track all types, azimuths and trajectories anywhere around the globe. Now, that’s affordable innovation!
Another area of innovation that I’m excited about is digital engineering—how we design, build, field and sustain solutions using digital techniques. The changes there aren’t evolutionary; they’re revolutionary. By investing in digital processes, tools and techniques, we can iterate rapidly, experiment on the fly and field solutions in environments that can support multiple systems across multiple domains in order to share and exploit data in ways that have never been done before.
A great example is our work building the ground test and flight operations systems on the James Webb Space Telescope. Not only can you build something that will fly millions of miles away, but with digital engineering you can simulate it—you can test it before you fly it to make sure you get it right.
In fall 2021, Raytheon Intelligence & Space acquired SEAKR Engineering and Blue Canyon Technologies—both Colorado-based companies. Does Raytheon have a deliberate focus on space in Colorado?
Let’s start by asking, “Why is the Space Symposium in Colorado?” It’s a lovely place, but also: It’s a place for space. And I don’t say that lightly. The aerospace industry is one of the largest employers in the state, and it’s continuing to grow.
Our investments in Blue Canyon Technologies and SEAKR are part of our move to vertically integrate end-to-end space solutions for our customers—from sensors and instruments on buses to processing at the edge of space. We’re looking at that across the board in Colorado because there’s a recipe for success here from an industry perspective, from a talent perspective and from a capacity perspective.
You’re relatively new to Raytheon Intelligence & Space, having joined the organization in January 2022. What should people know about you?
Although I’m a newcomer to the space side of the house, I’ve had more than 28 years of experience in aerospace. I’ve had the opportunity to be at the front end of bringing new capabilities and technologies to our customers. I’ve been a chief engineer for very large-scale businesses at Boeing, touching every part of the business, but I’ve also been a business leader in charge of multiple portfolios, including the V-22, which was a transformational product in and of itself, and the T-7, which has a digitized production line that takes only 30 minutes to splice an aircraft. And most recently, I led Boeing’s autonomous systems. So, it just made sense for me to pursue the space side of the business.
On a very personal note, however, I’d like to say that the decision to join Raytheon Intelligence & Space goes back to my roots as a little girl. I grew up in the days of Star Wars and Star Trek. And my dad was also in the industry. So I was always interested in space, and I’m proud to be part of it. I can’t emphasize that enough. At Raytheon Intelligence & Space, we understand how critical space is to our economy, to freedom, to national security and, frankly, to our existence on Earth. We’re going to continue to connect, inspire and deliver on some of the most important work around the globe, and I’m excited and blessed to be a part of this mission.