U.S. Air Force Transfers Experimental TacSat-3 to Multi-satellite Command System

by

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin Corp. has successfully transferred control of an experimental U.S. military imaging satellite from a customized but vulnerable ground system to a more secure platform designed to accommodate multiple spacecraft, the company said.

The original control system for the Tactical Satellite-3, or TacSat-3, did not meet information assurance requirements adopted after the satellite was launched in May 2010, according to Peter Robin, program manager for engineering, development and sustainment at Lockheed Martin IS&GS-Defense at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

The Air Force has developed significant new information assurance requirements as it deals with the growing threat from cyberhackers, he said.

“When the satellite was put together, these particular rules did not exist … so they didn’t have to comply with them,” Robin said. “Now these rules are coming out and legacy systems are no longer being grandfathered. They have to be brought into compliance with these new rules and |restrictions.”

The Multi-Mission Satellite Operations Center (MMSOC) is a satellite control architecture designed primarily for experimental and Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) missions. It was developed by Lockheed Martin along with the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Development and Test Directorate at Kirtland.

The first MMSOC officially began operations in November 2010 at Kirtland with the launch of the Pentagon’s experimental STPSat-2 satellite, according to a Lockheed Martin statement. A second MMSOC at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., became operational last June with the launch of the ORS-1 surveillance satellite, the first operational satellite built under the ORS paradigm.

The Air Force in the future may operate some of its major satellite constellations, such as GPS, using MMSOC, according to Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command. “Reducing the sustainment of diverse ground equipment is a key component to reducing our operating costs — it requires less facility space, inventory, and personnel expertise,” Shelton said in written testimony for a March 8 House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing.

The late-February transfer of TacSat-3 control to the MMSOC could be a pathfinder for other satellites currently operating on vulnerable ground systems, Robin said during an interview. Lockheed Martin is currently assembling a response to a NASA request for proposals to transfer control of the agency’s CloudSat environmental monitoring satellite to MMSOC, he said.

Transitioning TacSat-3 to the MMSOC, a Windows-based ground system, cost less than it would have to upgrade the legacy ground-segment hardware to meet the new standards, Robin said. He declined to provide cost details but said the transfer also will reduce overhead costs because multiple satellites can share MMSOC resources. 

Information assurance concerns with TacSat-3’s legacy UNIX-based ground system arose about a year ago, Robin said.

Lockheed Martin started working with the Air Force to migrate TacSat-3 to the MMSOC in June. The transition completely resolves the information assurance risk for the satellite, Robin said.

TacSat-3 is a low-cost, small satellite designed to demonstrate the ability to conduct hyperspectral imaging. It is one of several satellites built under the ORS paradigm, which emphasizes low-cost satellites that can be built and launched quickly in response to emerging military requirements.

The Defense Department has spent $65 million on MMSOC since 2007, according to Auburn Davis, a spokeswoman for the Air Force. Plans call for spending another $51 million on the system through 2017, she said in an email.