The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security 

Episode 13: Elara Nova Authors Discuss Satellite Control Network White Paper

Host: Scott King 

Subject Matter Experts: Maj Gen (Ret) Roger Teague, founding partner at Elara Nova (RT); Col (Ret) Mark Hughes, partner at Elara Nova (MH)

00:02 – 01:52 

Elara Nova’s inaugural White Paper, “Time for a New Approach with the Satellite Control Network,” set an industry-leading precedent with its call-to-action to modernize the long-neglected, but particularly critical Satellite Control Network or SCN. Considered the ‘backbone’ of space operations, the SCN is the network of ground system antennas that enable communications between operators on Earth and the Department of Defense satellites on-orbit, to ensure command and control capability. 

But the SCN facilitates connections for more than just DOD satellites, it also supports civil and intelligence agencies, as well. This means that an increasingly populated space environment, coupled with chronic under-funding and advancing satellite technology, is overextending the SCN’s capacity to support our national security space needs. 

Now, Elara Nova is using its platform to advocate for modernizing the SCN with new, innovative solutions, and operating concepts, to ensure this critical network of ground system antennas can meet the needs of the warfighter.  

Welcome to “The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security.” I’m your host Scott King and joining us today are the two co-authors of the White Paper: Retired Major General Roger Teague, founding partner at Elara Nova; and Retired Colonel Mark Hughes, partner at Elara Nova. 

General Teague served for over 31 years in the United States Air Force, and held the role of Director, Space Programs from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition in Washington, D.C.  

Colonel Hughes retired after a 24-year career with the United States Air Force, including the role of Principal Personal Advisor to the Under Secretary of the Air Force. 

General Teague, I’d like to start with you. Can you share a little bit about the purpose of the White Paper and how the idea for it came about? 

01:53 – 03:20 

(RT): You bet. Scott. Let me first say that I think it’s very important, as our fellow founders have talked about many times, we believe that Elara Nova is multi-faceted, and it’s important that we be thought leaders in this space. We have such an incredible, talented team that has such a diverse space background and that it’s important that in fact, we have a responsibility to be able to get the word out on various topics and subjects and matters of significant importance across the space enterprise. 

And that was really the primary motivator for the article on the SCN. Obviously, there are a number of different space mission areas that require urgent, repair and or modernization and we just felt that, as we talked to various clients and we talked to various senior leaders and we considered all the options.  

It was important to highlight what, frankly, is the backbone of all satellite control, across both the Air Force, the Space Force, the intelligence community and NASA. It is, in fact, a piece of nationally critical infrastructure, across the United States and it supports so many different aspects of our nation’s ability to conduct satellite operations successfully.  

And so we felt like it was important to highlight this issue. There are many, many more topics that we intend to talk about and write about. But this one, came to the forefront, as we were considering those elements that were absolutely critical to our future success.

03:21 – 03:35 

And so Colonel Hughes, what makes the fact that all these agencies rely on the SCN, a liability for it to be targeted by U.S. adversaries? And how can the Space Force ensure that the SCN remains reliable and secure for all of these agencies? 

03:36 – 05:14 

(MH):The SCN unto itself is not the only node or way to communicate, but it certainly is the primary node. And when you look at warfighters, they absolutely have to have the ability to command and control the forces in the field at the right place, at the right time, to get the effects that they need. 

And if they don’t have that ability, then you’re not going to be able to get the warfighting effects that are necessary across the whole spectrum of warfare. 

And so the agencies, the other agencies to include the intelligence agencies, serve in that mission and the civil agencies require it to perform. We all require getting assets at the right place to do their job, and it is a liability on a single network. So our adversaries would look to take out the primary node, if only to cause confusion on our side and inability to act quickly and effectively. 

In that case, we need to like we’re disaggregating all our sensing systems and our satellite systems and decentralizing, disaggregating the architecture. We need to do the same thing with our paths of communications to command and control those assets. And in that case, it means to put in multiple nodes, multiple points in order to get the message through. It is a liability if we can’t do that because the system has to be reliable and has to be secure to a level it needs to be to accomplish the mission 

05:15 – 05:31 

The White Paper also describes that newer satellites are requiring twice the number of contacts with ground systems to execute command and control functions.  

So Colonel Hughes, can you explain why this is the case? And what makes the Satellite Control Network limited in its ability to support these changes in satellite technology?  

05:32 – 06:57 

(MH): It’s a great point because we have more satellites coming on-orbit than we’ve had before and that’s part of the disaggregation, decentralization for all these missions. The mission has become more complex to be able to respond faster with more technological input as well.  

And therefore, you have to be more responsive in a dynamic environment. It’s not just one pass over the Earth. I’m inside of the SCN antenna. I want to make a correction, check a status.  

And but now you have many, many more satellites out there trying to get many, many more contacts during that pass and it becomes a scheduling problem to do that. And the system itself is not designed to handle multipath situations. Now certain systems will have their own backup to take their own commands, but the SCN also has to be there to support it. 

It’s the new changes in technology driven by the mission concept that we have. That’s getting to the point, getting to an oversubscription or over-capability where the user has to prioritize these against multiple missions.

06:58 – 07:29 

Thank you, Sir, and so a de-centralized approach, with multiple antennas and a variety of connection points, can create greater resiliency in our network of ground systems antennas to communicate with satellites in space. 

But the White Paper also points to a more threatening space environment, coupled with chronic underfunding and advancing satellite technology, that altogether are exposing the fragility of the current Satellite Control Network that’s in place today.  

General Teague, can you elaborate on these dynamics and how together they create this vulnerability for the United States?

07:30 – 09:46 

(RT): Yeah, Scott, I think Mark really highlighted some key points there, but I mean, this issue isn’t new. Unfortunate as it may be, it is a soft. It’s a soft target. The location of the antenna sites globally are well known. The SCN has been under cyber attack for many years now. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of diligence to make sure that our networks remain clean and that the missions are able to execute successfully.  

But that said, those sites in and of themselves, they’re pretty well isolated and they’re pretty well known and a kinetic strike would do incredible damage. And so it’s important that as we think about what the future looks like, that there are resilient options available so that we be able to continue the mission, and not necessarily have to be dependent upon the current infrastructure associated with the Satellite Control Network as it exists today.  

Senior leaders within both the Air Force and the Space Force have been talking about this issue for a long time. And it is the stated doctrine of both Chinese and Russian leadership to be able to expose those vulnerabilities and cripple the United States, where it’s vulnerable, and space is certainly in their crosshairs.  

There are multiple examples throughout the past several years, where they’re demonstrating, if not firing, and letting their intentions be known very publicly that they have U.S. space capabilities in their crosshairs.  

And that should be a wakeup call to all Americans because indeed, our very way of life is, in fact, being threatened: our ability to live our lives throughout our daily activities, name your favorite one. Even just simply driving to the grocery store with your GPS-guided cell phone and or execute a banking transaction or simply fill up your car with gas. All of those functions that Americans and people around the world take for granted are at risk. 

And the fact that the SCN – it has not received the budget support, and we have not taken the time to recapitalize and truly, redevelop and or, find new ways of doing that business that would provide resiliency in its architecture across the network, creates in and of itself, a vulnerability that we must address as soon as possible.

09:47 – 10:18 

Thank you, Sir. And so the White Paper ties the Satellite Control Network’s role to the Space Force’s Line of Effort number one: to field combat-ready forces. 

This Line of Effort has been a key message for General Chance B. Saltzman, the Chief of Space Operations for the United States Space Force, who is aiming to align the efforts of system acquirers, operators, and sustainers under new, “Integrated Mission Deltas.” 

So General Teague, why is it important to associate the Satellite Control Network within the context of “combat readiness?” 

10:19 – 11:32 

(RT): Yeah, sure. Scott, again, I think this gets back to the core, the objectives that General Saltzman is trying to achieve. 

He realizes that his resources are limited and that we can’t continue to do business as we always have: for basically, a requirement is developed. And then you throw it over the fence for the acquirers to go acquire it, and then they throw it back to the operators and then the sustainers, and it’s a long-cycle that is not always efficient. 

And I think his objective of forming Integrated Mission Deltas gets to the core of that is that I bring those communities under one roof and I let them sort things out dynamically in real time and much faster pace in fielding and operating capability very, very quickly. 

I think what’s important and one of the recommendations that we make in this, White Paper, though, as well, is to bring both the intelligence community as well as NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, because they are such heavy users of the Satellite Control Network as well. There are a number of important voices that need to be brought to the table. 

As I said, this is a piece of nationally critical infrastructure, and all voices need to be heard with regard to what its future, system operation and capabilities are going to look like.

11:33 – 11:37 

And how can this approach ensure a seamless delivery in the Space Force’s ground network capability? 

11:38 – 12:49 

(RT): Well, any at all. Scott, any and all space mission systems are critical to be able to field and operate, maintain and sustain, credible space forces. As I mentioned earlier, the Satellite Control Network serves as the background for all satellite operations.  

And so as we consider General Saltzman’s edict, this was an easy application. But it’s more than just technology hardware in boxes and deployed ground stations, right? 

I mean, it’s actually to include the people who operate, acquire and sustain this as part of his intent, to ultimately transition to Integrated Mission Deltas. And I think it’s important that as this is the foundation of where he is going with the Integrated Mission Deltas. Is that on a mission area-by-mission area basis that we look through a different lens, through operations, acquisition and sustainment and that we think about our systems and the way we acquire and operate and sustain them differently than we ever have in the past.  

And I think that gets to the core of what General Saltzman is trying to achieve. We are resource constrained. The Space Force is resource constrained. And so it’s important to think and act differently and field the most credible forces possible. 

12:50 – 13:03 

Thank you, Sir. And so the White Paper calls for ten or more major contractors to support the management of modernizing the SCN.  

Colonel Hughes, why ten or more? How should commercial space companies view this call to action?  

13:04 – 14:53 

(MH): You have to go back to the history of one: how we manage the system over decades. 

And General Teague referred to this as we were split in the acquisition and the operations community. And that all also came to how they were funded and how they were supported throughout their lifecycle to do that. Operators would want a near-term fix, acquirers would want to advance capability. Over 60 years, there have been many, many upgrades and even some of the legacy systems still exist.  

You now have individual contracts being let by individual acquisitions or operations commands that have been legacy throughout the system, that aren’t integrated in their delivery of capability. I did it for my entity, and as Roger said, I’ll throw it over the wall and that’s what’s occurred.  

In order to match what General Saltzman wants. And that is we should all be together working for that same capability and on the same team, using the bucket of money that we have to deliver capability in the best way that we can. And we also have to make sure that we, be conscious about the legacy capabilities that the system has – so we don’t sunset them too early.  

Why ten or more? It’s because companies get into this system and get to support them, and then they become the core, knowing of all the things they have to do on these systems. We are talking about multiple hardware configurations, software configurations and because they have to be integrated, multiple interfaces and configuration controls. You can’t just make a simple change without evaluating it.

14:54 – 15:19 

Thank you, Sir, and the White Paper uses the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, signed into law by the Eisenhower administration, as an example of how a strong infrastructure can also enable military capability.  

Colonel Hughes, can you expand upon this parallel and how we can apply lessons learned from the Interstate and Highways Act, to also upgrade our ground-based infrastructure for space in a similar way? 

15:20 – 16:24 

(MH): The infrastructure that we have in our highway system was born of military necessity, recognized by President Eisenhower when he was a General and saw how efficiently the German forces were able to move capability. And as he came back into the presidential role, he saw that everyone was building their own, non-connected, non-standard, integrated road system that wasn’t getting to what it needed to be and money was being inefficiently spent. 

In order to get this raised to the right level. He determined – it is better to raise this up to a federal level, because this infrastructure is so critical to us. And as it turned out, not only was this critical for the military aspect of being able to move equipment, logistics across the country rapidly, but it also fueled our economic engine.  

That’s the lesson that we can inform the Space Force is to look at this as a national infrastructure problem.

16:25 – 16:51 

Thank you, Sir, and at the top of the discussion, we mentioned that the Satellite Control Network was just the first White Paper published by Elara Nova. But the ground network supporting our space infrastructure is just one issue in the broader national security space discussion.  

So my question to each of you is: what happens next? What lessons can we learn from this process with the Satellite Control Network, and how can we apply it to other relevant programs that need attention?

16:52 – 18:02 

(RT): Scott. Certainly, I think the Department of Defense and the U.S. Space Force have a number of different systems that have similar stories to the Satellite Control Network. They’re aging, they’re outdated. They need next generation capability. But I will tell you Elara Nova needs to be thought leaders and needs to be advocates on behalf of the entire space domain.  

I think it’s important that we talk about budgets. I think it’s important that we talk about cyber threats, and the kinds of threats that everyday Americans might be facing, but yet completely unaware of. I think it’s important that we talk about the kinds of capabilities that are provided through space that are often taken for granted simply just because they’re orbiting 23,000 miles above our heads. 

So as we look at this through our leadership lens, we are going to be engaging on a number of different topics in the days and months ahead, to be able to address them from an independent perspective.  

Again, these are decisions that are being made with regard to where our tax dollars are being spent and the kind of capabilities that we pursue and the kind of capabilities we choose to integrate. All of those decisions have consequences and it’s important that we get it right.

18:03 – 18:25 

(MH): The fact that we’ve entered this goal of being thought leaders has stimulated a lot of thinking as to where we can take it. And there will be many many opportunities to talk about missions, to talk about budgets, to talk about infrastructure, even management and operational approaches. That’s why it’s great to have Elara Nova.

18:26 – 19:04 

This has been an episode of The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security. As a global consultancy and professional services firm focused on helping businesses and government agencies maximize the strategic advantages of the space domain, Elara Nova is your source for expertise and guidance in space security. 

If you liked what you heard today, please subscribe to our channel and leave us a rating. Music for this podcast was created by Patrick Watkins of PW Audio. This episode was edited and produced by Regia Multimedia Services. I’m your host, Scott King, and join us next time at the Elara Edge.