The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security

Episode 7: Dynamic Space Operations – A Requirement for Joint Operations

The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security

Episode 8:  Dynamic Space Operations: A Requirement for Joint Operations

Host: Scott King

Subject Matter Expert: Elara Nova Partner Maj Gen (Ret.) Brook Leonard

00:02 – 01:33

Space Systems Command recently revealed details from its Parallax Rising 2.2 tabletop exercise, which explored the emerging requirement for satellites to maneuver in space. The exercise focused on developing solutions for “Dynamic Space Operations,” – or DSO – an operational concept advocated by retired Lieutenant General John Shaw. While the capacity to maneuver is not new, as a warfighting concept, Parallax Rising 2.2 reflects how the Space Force is adjusting its operations based on an increasingly congested and hostile domain. 

Maneuvering in space, however, carries technically challenging and potentially compromising risks. But ensuring the resiliency of space-based capabilities are proving to be especially critical to enabling future Joint Force operations.

Welcome to “The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security.” I’m your host – Scott King. And today’s guest is retired Major General Brook Leonard – partner at Elara Nova: The Space Consultancy. General Leonard previously served as the Deputy Command and Director of Operations for the Combined Joint Task Force – Space Operations, as well as the Chief of Staff of Space Systems Command.

Now, he’s here to discuss Parallax Rising 2.2, and its role in facilitating the Space Force’s objective for establishing dynamic space operations by 2026. 

Sir, welcome to the Elara Edge. Can you begin by defining dynamic space operations and why the Space Force is seeking to establish this capability?

01:34 – 03:15

You bet, Scott. At its essence, it’s a principle of war and it’s historically something that we’ve seen gives one side an upper hand over the other side.

And so that’s really the essence of dynamic space operations is the ability to manuever, versus being a fixed target. And what we’ve seen throughout military history is that maneuver wins.

For dynamic space operations, satellites are moving really fast, but it’s really what they maneuver in relationship to. Are they maneuvering differently in relationship to the Earth? Are they maneuvering differently towards two other satellites? And also I would say it’s not just an orbital concept.

Dynamic Space Operations is a concept from bench stock all the way to orbit. How do we get payloads and capabilities from people’s minds into actual technology, loaded onto satellite buses, onto rockets and then launched up into space? And then also, how do we maneuver in space to do that? And so that’s kind of my second point – is it’s much larger than ‘Can we refuel on-orbit?’

And that brings me to kind of my third point is that you can achieve dynamic space operations many different ways. When we talk about maneuver with regret,if you have an unlimited gas tank, you definitely can do that and so that’s definitely a part of dynamic space operations. 

But launching very quickly, launching from different platforms and different areas of the world and being able to have a launch cadence that outmatches your enemy or your opponent is really important as well.

So the importance, though, is starting to change the mindset, which then hopefully will drive the technology and in my opinion, help us catch up a little bit and stay ahead of what’s out there.

03:16 – 03:20

Can you elaborate on what you mean about changing the mindset around dynamic operations in space?

03:21 – 04:21

Yeah, Scott, that’s a great question. The mindset change becomes this sort of decision about future regret. And so heretofore, we had satellites up on-orbit. They don’t necessarily have a lot of fuel. They’re there in an orbit, or in a certain position for a reason and that’s the way we’ve sort of designed our force structure. And so our infrastructure was created and it was created really well and has served us well.

But we need to shift our mindset to the changing nature of operations in space. And it’s really following the course of history from fixed capabilities like castles to the capability to maneuver. And it helps us on this future regret and I saw in Space Command where there’s been some times where we forego opportunities because we wanted to make sure we had future capabilities.

And those are hard decisions. And so that mindset, I think, will help us then really compete at the level we need to, to stay on pace with our pacing threats.

04:22 – 04:38

The requirement to maneuver is a traditional warfighting concept. However, space is a new domain for the warfighter. So what are some theoretical scenarios that would require a satellite to maneuver in space, whether that be from a kinetic or a non-kinetic threat, or otherwise?

04:39 – 05:56

So you have everything from space debris and we need a maneuver to avoid that. That’s sort of your baseline foundational kinetic maneuver, if you will. You might also need a maneuver for reasons to optimize your mission platform.

I would also talk about adjusting loss. And so there is a resiliency component to dynamic space operations where if you have a limited number of capabilities in certain orbits, you can adjust the orbits and the coverage that you have to optimize sensor coverage or mission execution in certain parts of the world.

And then to kind of what you were talking about, kinetic and non-kinetic threats. And so foundationally, a non-kinetic threat could just be observation by an enemy aircraft looking to gain some intelligence that they would use nefariously later on. 

And so you might want to maneuver just to avoid being observed. You would also want to maneuver out of jamming platforms, collection platforms, and those can all be non-kinetic as well. 

And then you might want to optimize yourself based on space weather. So everything from sort of benign debris and environmental considerations, all the way through improving your mission capabilities to avoiding giving the enemy an upper hand, whether it’s, before a conflict or during a conflict are great reasons to be able to maneuver.

05:57 – 06:21

On-orbit refueling tends to be the first thing we think of when it comes to dynamic space operations. Other services, namely the Air Force and the Navy in particular, have adopted their own refueling strategies for their respective domains. 

What can the Space Force learn from their partner services as they look to establish their own refueling capability? And also, what makes refueling in space so inherently different and more challenging than the air and sea domains?

06:22 – 07:28

What makes it really hard to do in space, first and foremost is, something I know really well in that, you know, sitting in the cockpit of an F-16 or an F-35 trying to rejoin on a tanker and it’s a sunny day and the tanker is stable and you’re trying to get gas. Now, put yourself thousands and thousands of miles away without a really good idea of exactly – where is the tanker? How do I line up to get gas? If you will.

It’s just, you’re removed so far from that that we are going to have to rely on a lot of technology to be able to do that. 

And then the other part is, it isn’t just on-orbit. So dynamic space operations, I think the real key to making our ability to go again from bench stock to on-orbit – isreally standardization. Once we get the standardization and we’re being able to optimize how we build buses, how we build the common power and everything that they need and then integrate those into rockets, those things and that standardization. Once we get to the commodities of that logistical infrastructure, we’ll be able to solve the sort of ground-to-space part of dynamic space operations.

07:29 – 07:43

I’d like to continue on this thought of why on-orbit refueling is such a critical component to fielding DSO capability? And if I could put another nuance on this – can you share other ways we can implement dynamic space operations aside from on-orbit refueling?

07:44 – 09:05

The first part, why is it so critical? Is it’s not necessarily more critical than other things. It’s just an important part of the entire picture. And you have to be able to dynamically maneuver on the forward edge. If we cannot refuel on-orbit, we limit our power projection.

And I think a really good sort of analogy is, you know, how do we make it to the moon and then how do we make it from the moon to Mars? And then from there onto who knows where? You’ll have to build that logistics infrastructure of being able to refuel and replenish as we go.

And so that’s why I think being able to refuel in space is so important. I also think it’s relatively easy to do that compared to some of the other things that we’re looking to do in terms of dynamic operations.

There’s been a lot of being able to fix other satellites on-orbit. There’s been fuel transfers that have been done and it’s picking up pace. I mean, there’s actually a history of things that we have done like that with the ISS, fixing the Hubble Space Telescope, transferring propellant.

We’ve done this in the past. I mean, there’s a history of doing that and it’s only accelerating. And so going back to one of my earlier points is the technology is there. We just really need to get into a very heavy developmental cycle where we’re experimenting, of course, failing as we go, but that’s how we make progress.

09:06 – 09:25

Last year, Space Systems Command’s Space Mobility and Logistics team conducted a tabletop exercise called Parallax Rising 2.2, but they only just released details from the exercise at the start of 2024. Can you shed some light on the purpose of this exercise and how it might inform the DSO development process?

09:26 – 10:59

Really the first step in dynamic space operations is the thought process. A wargame, a tabletop exercise like Parallax Rising is just a great opportunity to sort of spend some time thinking through the problem, getting different perspectives from different players and looking at the action-reaction of this idea of ‘What about on-orbit refueling in GEO?’

And that really was how that tabletop exercise was scoped. And they looked at the strategic, the operational, the tactical and logistics complications. Being able to do that in a group and be able to go through action-reaction really helps the thoughts sort of unlock itself and beingable to build a picture of not only what’s the realm of the possible, but how could it benefit us and what are the higher returns on investment as we try to do this?

What type of refueling do we want? How would we do it? Where would we put our tankers? How would we store propellant? What kind of propellant would we store? How often would we refuel? How would we work through just the mindset of like we’ve done in the Air Force of where to put tankers? How much gas do they offload? How much time does it take? And just really the details and inner workings of that and then seeing it play out in a scenario can be really helpful.

And then that starts to inform what sort of technology do they need to develop? And that thinking really allows you to accelerate that growth process and really is starting to kick start where we need to go with dynamic space operations.

11:00 – 11:10

Thank you, sir. And then it seems that there were executives from the commercial industry that also took part in this exercise. Why is it important to include these industry partners this early in the development process for DSO capability?

11:11 – 12:00

It’s great to have people like that thinking through the problem because you just bring a lot more people and resources to bear.

You also bring different mindsets. Air Force, Space Force, all the services, when they think of dynamic space operations, they have effectiveness as the end in mind. Where a commercial perspective might have efficiency as an end in mind and really working through effectivenessand efficiency, because if either one of those goes to zero, you have zero in terms of your capability.

It’s really important to look at it from both perspectives. So the military does need to be efficient and commercial companies do need to be effective. And so those are really kind of two mindsets that when you can bring those together in a tabletop exercise such as this really helps.

12:01 – 12:11

How does dynamic space operations relate to the other DOD missions? Can DSO capability facilitate success in other mission areas across the Department of Defense? 

12:12 – 13:05

As an Air Force guy, I saw how air unlocked really the capabilities across other domains on the land and the sea. I would just sort of do one more to say space is unlocking every domain.

And so if space is fixed and nonrenewable now, it becomes an incredible albatross around the Joint Force because it’s fixed and it’s easily targeted, but it’s super critical and really both those things are equal bad, if you will.

On the opposite side, if space being such a critical enabler can maneuver and has the capability to execute dynamically, then that just unlocks even more maneuver and more agility across the Joint Force. And so really, to get to the bottom line of your question, it’s because space is so critical that it’s so critical that space is able to maneuver.

13:06 – 13:15

And sir, what role can Elara Nova have in facilitating interactions between the Space Force and its industry partners, particularly as it relates to fielding DSO capability?

13:16 – 14:11

Elara Nova first and foremost, understands the environment of where space was and where space needs to go and then the key part is Elara Nova knows how to get them there.

From both a mechanical perspective and our advisors’ understanding of the technology, to the organizational and relational components of getting things done.

And then the last thing I would add is, is mentally. We have the ability across our staff and the way we team with each other to be able to see around the corner, to be able to understand the needs that are out there and to be able to forecast and project what it takes to get there.

And I would say to get there before the competition does. And so on the military side, helping the United States Space Force and other organizations to be able to stay ahead of the pacing challenges, to be able to help commercial companies stay ahead of their competitors. Elara Nova is uniquely positioned in all those ways to be able to help.

14:12 – 15:00

If you’re interested in learning more about how the Space Force is seeking to cultivate capability for dynamic space operations. Visit our Insights page at www.elaranova.com.  

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.