Rapid Resilient Command and Control to Enable Dynamic Space Operations

R2C2 Aims to Unify Command and Control Capability Across Military Space Assets

The majority of military space assets on-orbit were built during an uncontested space era, and the ground systems currently supporting them are increasingly inhibited by outdated technology. Now, an emerging imperative for dynamic space operations (DSO) means the Space Force must not only develop new satellites that can maneuver, but also implement a ground systems network with reliable command and control (C2) communication links to operate them. To this end, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (SpRCO) and Space Systems Command are coming together to create a new, software-based ground system, called Rapid Resilient Command and Control (R2C2).

“R2C2 is taking the challenge of DSO and developing solutions from the other end of the problem, that being the from the ground up – by creating a command and control structure that enables resilience and responsive capability for military space assets,” said former Maj Gen Mike Carey, partner at Elara Nova: The Space Consultancy. “If a spacecraft is capable of receiving fuel and thrust commands, or maintaining communications in transit, then there must be a ground system network with command and control capabilities to support that.”

While space activity is commonly associated with spacecraft like satellites and rockets, it’s the command and control capability of ground systems that enable these assets to function.

“Command and control is fundamentally the most important element of a space-based system,” said Gen Carey, the former founder and chief operating and chief strategy officer of ATLAS Space Operations. “There needs to be a reliable communications link between the spacecraft and its operator. If you don’t have a functioning link to the spacecraft, then the spacecraft might as well be a rock in space.”

R2C2 the Latest Iteration of Command and Control

While R2C2 is the latest attempt to overhaul the Space Force’s ground system infrastructure, it won’t be starting from scratch. The R2C2 is designed to advance the efforts of two previous programs: Enterprise Ground Systems (EGS) and Ground Command, Control and Communications (GC3).

Traditionally, C2 ground systems were tailored to the unique mission set of military satellites, such as space domain awareness, GPS or weather. This approach, however, made interoperability of C2 across military space assets next to impossible. In response, EGS and GC3 each sought to unify the military’s C2 operations into a more efficient system for the operator.

“EGS was about getting each spacecraft out of its C2 stovepipe, so that you didn’t need a new ground command and control system every time you launch a new satellite mission,” said Gen Carey, the former Deputy Director for Command, Control and Nuclear Operations, The Joint Staff. “It’s important to design spacecraft architectures according to mission type, while ensuring they can communicate with a ground infrastructure that can operate them dynamically.”

The EGS program was launched by Space Systems Command in 2018. However, EGS quickly became overburdened by trying to do too much, or as SpRCO Director Kelly Hammett recently described the program, it “tried to boil the ocean.”

Likewise, GC3 began in 2020 as a software-based ground system designed specifically for SpRCO satellites. However, due to the quickly emerging demands for command and control capability, GC3 soon evolved to try and incorporate connections with all on-orbit military satellites.

Building Command and Control from the Ground Up

R2C2 is taking a new approach to establishing a unified command and control system.

“Instead of having operational capabilities migrated to a common platform like EGS, or applying a common set of C2 management tools to broader space architectures like GC3, the R2C2 program is approaching the problem differently,” said Gen Carey. “If we want to have dynamic and resilient operations, then our spacecraft need to be designed differently. The Space Force cannot have dynamic and resilient operations unless they have a command and control system that enables it, and R2C2 is looking to do just that.”

Therefore, R2C2 goes beyond just applying the latest technology to command and control capability.

“R2C2 is not only an evolution in technology, but of an operating concept,” said Gen Carey. “R2C2 takes elements of EGS and GC3, and focuses specifically on how to create command and control for dynamic space operations. There has to be a whole new construct for how you design, field and operate spacecraft before, during and after conflict.”

The ultimate end goal of R2C2, however, remains to simplify satellite operations for the warfighter.

“The value in a uniform ground system is that no matter what the spacecraft or mission is – you don’t have to recreate the data formats, the interfaces or a whole new ground network with its own language,” said Gen Carey. “You don’t have to train Guardians on how to operate one system entirely versus another, and you can develop common interfaces and procedures that drive efficiency, scalability and flexibility.”

C2 Challenges in the Space Domain

But while creating a standardized ground system would enable greater efficiency for the warfighter, the space domain presents a series of challenges that still need to be overcome.

“National security space has to operate a multitude of spacecraft in a variety of orbits – which embody the physics and points of access challenges that C2 commonly faces,” said Gen Carey. “A low-Earth orbit spacecraft has a different set of risks, for example, than a Geostationary asset. Both have very different communication requirements and life-cycle behavior than a cislunar-based asset. Each asset has their own solar eclipse, battery charge states and on-board fueling needs to consider.”

Compounding these complications is the need to sustain legacy space-based assets that lack the ability to maneuver on-orbit, until an R2C2 ground system can be fielded to engage with them.

“That’s the real challenge for the Space Force,” said Gen Carey. “‘How do you sustain operations for the current systems with a legacy technical interface, while on-boarding a brand new and technologically leapfrogged system? How do you field a new spacecraft capability when you don’t have the new ground command and control system in place that can robustly manage the new force, while sustaining the existing force?'”

A Commercial Opportunities for C2 Solutions

Furthermore, much like any other military program, budget constraints also pose a challenge. This, however, can be an opportunity for commercial space partners to provide more affordable solutions for the R2C2 program.

“Budgets are often healthy enough for research and development, but the costs to create a dynamic space capability that’s operationally resilient against both on-orbit and ground threats is significant,” said Gen Carey. “The commercial industry already has to innovate to survive, so the government can, in theory, save money by leveraging commercial tools that are typically cheaper and can be implemented quicker.”

The Space Force is seeking a software-based solution for R2C2, and is now finalizing plans to purchase C2 software from the commercial industry.

“The needs for dynamic space architectures can really only be met in a cloud-based, software-enabled ground system,” said Gen Carey. “However, it’s important to note that our C2 capabilities should not solely rely on a commercial network, but there are commercial capabilities that can be recreated for a secure government purpose.”

In turn, SpRCO and SSC have openly embraced their commercial partners since initiating the R2C2 program in February of 2023. This comes as part of a broader effort by the Space Force to engage with commercial partners and capitalize on emerging technologies for an evolving threat landscape in the space domain.

“There needs to be a consistent, structured conversation between government and commercial partners,” said Gen Carey. “The Industry Days, along with RFIs, are important for sharing information from the government to commercial entities, who are developing the solutions for national security space. Reverse Industry Days are equally important, as they provide industry to inform the government of the state of technology and the art of the possible. ”

Together, a new ground system capable of responding to an operationally dynamic space domain can be achieved.

“You must invest in a ground system that supports a dynamic satellite orbital architecture,” said Gen Carey. “If you don’t address ground systems upfront, you won’t have the points of presence, the capability or the bandwidth to dynamically operate your spacecraft on-orbit. So the Space Force is right to consider a cloud-based and software-enabled ground infrastructure, while developing its space-based architecture, simultaneously.”

Now, Elara Nova exists to open more communication channels between Space Force agencies and their industry partners.

“Elara Nova has the strength of not just former Generals and Admirals, but senior technology and policy professionals who can collectively address a variety of complex problems,” said Gen Carey. “When you hire a single consultant, you not only get the capabilities of that particular consultant, but when you bring on Elara Nova, you benefit from the power of the whole Elara Nova network behind them.”

Elara Nova is a global consultancy and professional services firm focused on helping businesses and government agencies maximize the strategic advantages of the space domain. Learn more at