WASHINGTON – All new satellites built for the U.S. Air Force must be compatible with an experimental ground system that was designed primarily for demonstration missions and is viewed as a steppingstone to a common ground architecture for major operational constellations, a senior service official said.

Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said he has told his deputies that all new satellites must work with the experimental Multi-Mission Satellite Operations Center (MMSOC), which is used today primarily for Operationally Responsive Space demonstration missions.

“There’s been some significant emotional events for folks that bring me new satellites that want to come into Schriever Air Force Base in particular and they say ‘I need a new ground system,’” Hyten said during a press briefing Sept. 16 at the Air Force Association’s annual tech expo. “No you don’t. You’re going to put it in MMSOC. Period. If you can’t put it in MMSOC, it’s not coming in.”

Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions of Herndon, Virginia , along with the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Development and Test Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, developed the MMSOC. The first MMSOC is at Kirtland, home of the Air Force-led Operationally Responsive Space Office, with a second at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Air Force leaders see the MMSOC as a potential model for its future ground system, which is known as the Enterprise Ground Services because it features a plug-and-play capability that makes it easy to improve and update technology, especially security. Service officials say the EGS architecture will operate many if not most of its satellite constellations in the future.

“That’s kind of the testbed, if you will” for EGS, Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander of the 14th Air Force and the head of the Joint Functional Component Command for space, said during a Sept. 11 breakfast here.

The MMSOC system has been used for the launch-phase of the Pentagon’s ORS-1 imaging satellite mission and will be used again for the ORS-5 mission. service officials have said. The latter satellite is expected to launch in 2017.

The EGS would be available in the early 2020s to command and control a variety of national security satellites. Service officials say moving away from custom-built ground systems for each mission will save money, increase capability and improve responsiveness.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing Network and Space Systems of El Segundo, California, and Raytheon Intelligence Information and Services of Dulles, Virginia, are among the companies closely tracking how the plan evolves.

In recent weeks, several top-ranking Air Force space officials have said one of the keys to the new ground program is operating software that is owned by the Defense Department rather than proprietary to the contractor.

“Every time we refresh a system’s operating parameters, we can’t go back to the contractor for a new software drop,” Buck said. “We can’t go back to the contractor just because they fielded the system…. No single contractor should have control over the architecture.”

A more flexible, adaptable ground system would better ensure telemetry, tracking and control in a contested environment, Buck said. It would also automate many of the basic spacecraft command-and-control functions currently performed by Air Force personnel.

“We need our operators focused on the payload, not on the bus,” Hyten said.

The Air Force is already experimenting with more automated command-and-control operations on ORS-1. For 12 hours a day, the satellite bus management is handled by a human operator and for 12 hours it is handled by a machine. A more automated system would allow airmen to focus more on warfighting functions while reducing the chances of human error, Buck said.

“In the future this needs to become the norm rather than the exception,” he said.

The Air Force is debating when the EGS might debut with which major satellite constellation. Hyten suggested that the Space Based Infrared System for missile warning is a good candidate as it comes up on completion of the first increment of its new ground system.

“We have to figure out how to move the big stuff and we have some opportunities that are going to show themselves soon,” he said.

Another question is whether the EGS would have to physically reside at a space operations center or could be remotely located and connect to the center via fiber optic cable, Buck said.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.