WASHINGTON – Commercial representatives could sit side-by-side with U.S. Air Force personnel in the Defense Department’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) by the end of the year under an initiative designed to give military operators a more complete and accurate picture of the space environment.
Having a so-called commercial integration cell within the JSpOC, the Defense Department’s nerve center for space operations, would give the Air Force a better sense of how commercial satellites are operated and how they could more closely coordinate with military space capabilities, according to the Air Force and industry sources.
The initiative is rooted in a pair of trends including an increased emphasis within the Air Force on learning what other operators are doing with their satellites. Meanwhile, Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, has repeatedly cited provisions in the U.S. National Space Policy that call for greater reliance on commercial space capabilities.
The two converged last summer when the Air Force held its annual spacewar game at Schriever Air Base in Colorado, an exercise that simulated a rapidly escalating regional conflict in which U.S. space capabilities were challenged and degraded, according to a Feb. 20 statement from the service. Details of the game, which was set in the year 2026, were classified.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, which oversees much of the Air Force’s space situational awareness activities, said in the statement that one of the key takeaways from the event was the “operational contributions of commercial space.”
Representatives from a mix of satellite operators and manufacturers, including Intelsat, Inmarsat, DigitalGlobe, Astrium and SSL Federal, took part of the wargame, the statement said.
Raymond held a follow-up meeting in February with more than a half-dozen commercial satellite operators during which the two sides walked through a series of assumptions to dispel misconceptions about how they operate, according to sources. The Air Force, in a March 16 response to questions from SpaceNews, described the meeting as a semiannual event where the service and industry explore more effective ways to work together.
As a result, commercial satellite operators said they could have a presence in the JSpOC at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to provide information on their satellites and give both parties a broader perspective on space operations, sources said. The commercial representatives would collectively be known as the commercial integration cell.
“Given the nexus of military and commercial satellite communications, one of the proposed methods of pursuing greater cooperation and synergy in the space environment includes the integration of liaison personnel from the commercial sector in the JSpOC,” Capt. Nicholas Mercurio, a spokesman for the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, said in a March 16 email. “Such integration would allow for rapid identification, diagnosis and resolution of communications anomalies while also increasing the overall resilience of the satellite communications architecture.”
Since the February meeting, the initiative has been fast-tracked, at least by Air Force standards. The service is hoping to have a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, which sets the terms and conditions for the arrangement as soon as May 1, one industry source said.
The Air Force declined to cite specific details on a next step, saying the pilot program was in its early stages.
“By working more closely with the U.S. government, commercial operators gain better insight into requirements and operational needs in order to become better partners and promote greater resilience and survivability,” another industry source said. “There is a growing realization that since the U.S. government depends on commercial capability, they need to be more closely aligned with commercial operators so we can better serve as one team.”