The U.S. Space Force is developing approaches to address the increasing demand for the Satellite Control Network (SCN), but lacks an updated long-term sustainment plan for the network, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
The SCN is a system of 19 globally distributed antennas that supports the launch and day-to-day control of U.S. government satellites, including defense and intelligence satellites. The Space Force is responsible for managing, sustaining, and upgrading the network.
The SCN lifecycle sustainment plan – issued in September 2017 – governs, manages, and executes updates and changes to the satellite network. The plan “includes all the operations and support operations from the time of SCN’s inception to the time of its disposal. It also contains information about management of the SCN and measures of SCN performance,” GAO reported.
However, while the network has experienced significant changes, the plan does not reflect those changes.
For example, to address increasing demand, the Space Force has requested SCN users reduce non-critical contacts to reduce utilization rates in recent years. Space Force is also managing two improvement efforts to update ground control electronics and antennas intended to sustain the SCN.
However, the SCN lifecycle sustainment plan does not include these efforts or reflect the transition of SCN’s responsibility to the Space Force.
In addition, the Space Force is seeking additional SCN capacity by exploring the use of commercial antennas and those operated by other Federal agencies, which could provide some capacity to SCN-supported satellites. It is also working to develop and acquire 12 new, higher-capacity antennas, an effort known as Satellite Communication Augmentation Resource. The prototype is expected in 2025.
According to GAO, updating or issuing a new plan would help Space Force better plan for future SCN sustainment.
Specifically, GAO recommends that the “Secretary of the Air Force ensure that Space Systems Command updates or issues a new lifecycle sustainment plan that includes information about all the current sustainment strategies,” and Space Force responsibilities. The Department of Defense (DoD) agreed with the GAO’s recommendation.