COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is studying how to develop a common ground system to track, communicate with and control all the satellites it operates, a move that would save money and improve cybersecurity, the head of Air Force Space Command said on Thursday.
General John Hyten said in an interview that several options were under discussion that would free up money to focus on the sensors on different satellite systems that are used for communications, navigation, missile warning and other missions.
He said the options included using an existing Air Force ground system developed for research satellites a decade ago; developing a larger system in-house; signing a services-based contract to handle the work, or hiring a contractor to design a single new system that would be used for all spacecraft.
“We have to figure out what baseline pipe everything is going to operate on, and then we need to go build that baseline pipe and define the interfaces,” Hyten said at the annual Space Symposium conference.
He said the Air Force would continue to use ground systems developed by Lockheed Martin Corp for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites that provide early warnings of missile launches, and the Raytheon Co ground system that will operate Air Force global positioning satellites(OCX).
But the next generation of satellites would need to include common interfaces to allow them to plug into the new common ground system, Hyten said.
Lockheed, Raytheon and other big players in the military satellite market, such as Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp, are eager for news about the Air Force’s plans.
Smaller companies such as Harris Corp and commercial providers such as Intelsat Corp [INTHBT.UL] also see opportunities.
Hyten told the conference this week that developing a separate ground system for each separate satellite program was the “dumbest thing in the world” and change was overdue.
On Thursday, he told a news conference that “way too much money” had been spent on separate telemetry, tracking and control systems in recent years.
“We’re going to figure out how to spend that money once and have industry do the unique things that are unique to their satellite,” he said.
Developing a common ground system would also help shore up the security of the networks used to communicate with, track and control the satellites, and it would make it far easier to train Air Force personnel, Hyten said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky