The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security

Episode 8: R2C2 Aims to Unify Command and Control Capability Across Military Space Assets

Ground systems connect with satellites

The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security

Episode 8: R2C2 Aims to Unify Command and Control Capability Across Military Space Assets

Host: Scott King

Subject Matter Expert: Elara Nova Partner, former Maj Gen Mike Carey

00:00 – 01:57

The majority of military space assets on-orbit today, 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built during an uncontested space era, and the ground systems currently supporting them are increasingly inhibited by outdated technology.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, means the Space Force must not only develop new, manueverable satellites, but also implement a ground systems network with reliable command and control communication links to operate them. To this end, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and Space Systems Command are coming together to create a new, software-based ground system, called Rapid Resilient Command and Control or R2C2.

Welcome to “The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security.” I’m your host – Scott King. And today’s guest is former Major General Mike Carey, a partner at Elara Nova: The Space Consultancy. General Carey previously served as the Deputy Director for Command, Control and Nuclear Operations, The Joint Staff. He is also the former co-founder and chief strategy officer of ATLAS Space Operations.

Now, he’s here to share his point of view on R2C2, and the role of ground systems and their command and control capability to facilitate dynamic space operations. Sir, thank you for joining me at the Elara Edge today. Can you describe – in your own words –  what the R2C2 program is all about?

01:58 – 02:57

R2C2 is a program that the Space Rapid Capabilities Office is bringing on to add to the resilience and responsiveness of space-based command and control capabilities. They’re really interested in taking on capabilities that can support a whole different operational concept of satellite on-orbit operations, specifically to adapt to disruptions of threats to and from space-based systems.

What that means is there’s cyber threats, there’s electronic warfare threats, there’s physical threats. And, you know, space historically had been a pretty neutral or non-hostile environment – that’s changed quite a bit over the last decade and continues to become more contested. And space satellite capabilities in particular were always not expected to have such a dynamic capability of maneuver or modification of network alignment for getting data down and R2C2 is supposed to address that.

02:58 – 03:15

And sir, Dynamic Space Operations was the topic of our last episode at the Elara Edge, when I spoke with fellow Elara Nova partner, retired Major General Brook Leonard.

Can you elaborate on the relationship between dynamic space operations and the current command and control systems in place today?

03:16 – 04:24

So current command and control capabilities are certainly capable of supporting DSO activities. For example, refueling a spacecraft can happen today with the resources and the C2 structures of today. Absolutely can happen. 

Maneuvering can happen today and it does. So everything that DSO in its individual tasks and you can articulate it: I want to be able to maneuver. I want to be able to rotate, you know, 90 degrees. I want to do prox-ops, proximity operations. I want to mate a fuel tank and then maneuver a spacecraft that’s been fuel-less for months, all that could happen today.

But it’s a special case. It’s not routine operations with routineized techniques, validated procedures and line crew executing these tasks. It’s a special event. To make it normalized, to make it operational. You need a different command structure and a different logistics and sustainment level to persevere through years of operational activities. And that comes with R2C2.

04:25 – 04:58

The space domain has a broad range of mission requirements, as demonstrated by the equally broad range of space-based assets on-orbit today – each designed specifically, to accomplish its respective mission with its own, unique command and control operating system.

This approach was sufficient in the more benign, traditional space environment.

But in what ways does this historical approach drive complexity in the more dynamic command and control needs of today, and how will a uniform command and control system across military space-based assets alleviate this complexity for the warfighter?

04:59 – 06:34

So national security space has the requirement to operate a multitude of spacecraft in a variety of orbits which the physics drive the point of access and some of the risks that they face, right?

A low-Earth orbit spacecraft has a different set of risks, for example, than a Geostationary asset. And those have very different risks than a cislunar-based asset. And they have different communication requirements and they have different lifecycle behaviors based on solar eclipse and battery charge states and onboard fuel. 

You go to a rental car agency right now, right? As an analogy, whether it’s Avis or Herz or whatever, whether it’s a Toyota or a Ford, other than how you key start button or a key slot is – it is generally laid out in a format that any driver can figure out how to drive that vehicle.

Not so with spacecraft, the telemetry is not the same. The mnemonics aren’t the same. The command structure is not the same and so for the ground personnel, who got to work with the interface – it’s not the same. And that doesn’t have to be the case. It’s just how it’s been. You can make it common and in common interfaces. It’s all about efficiencies, and then that enables scalability and also flexibility.

No matter what spacecraft you put up, whatever its mission is, you don’t have to recreate all of the interfaces, the API call-outs. You don’t have to create a whole new ground network with its own language and its own human interface, and you don’t have to train people on how to drive one spacecraft versus another.

06:35 – 07:05

It appears that R2C2 is an evolution of two previous programs: Ground Command, Control and Communications or GC3 and Enterprise Ground Services, EGS. Both of these programs represent a previous attempt at unifying command and control capability across military space-based assets. 

Can you share some perspective on why the Space Force remains focused on unifying command and control capability, and how R2C2 is going to do things differently from these previous programs?

07:06 – 09:15

Command and control is fundamentally the most important element of a space-based system, because if you don’t have a survivable link to the spacecraft, then the spacecraft is a computer or a machine that is a rock in space. And so whether it’s every 45 minutes, every 4 hours or every 4 seconds, there needs to be a link or continuous – for some cases – between the spacecraft and its operator.

And we have the need to be dynamic and resilient in our operations and so we need to design spacecraft differently. We can’t design spacecraft differently, unless we have a command and control system that enables it. 

If I had spacecraft that are now capable of receiving fuel, receiving thrust commands, maintaining communications in transit, then I can imagine how the space ground network has to evolve to support that and the command structures and the data structures that have to do that. So it’s taking one problem set of DSO and then describing what the command and control structure has to be to enable that resilience and responsive capability.

So R2C2, in my understanding, is tackling the problem from a different perspective. As opposed to EGS, which was migrating existing capabilities to a common platform, if you will, or GC3, which is looking at enabling C2 functions and data management in a more generic sense. 

R2C2 takes concepts of EGS, and elements of GC3, and focuses specifically on how to create dynamic command and control for dynamic operations in space. There has to be a whole new construct for how you design spacecraft, how you field spacecraft and how you operate prior to conflict, through and after conflict as well with R2C2. So it is an evolution not just of a technology, but it’s an evolution of an operating concept as well. And I think that that’s where it has a better chance of success.

09:16 – 09:35

According to its Director, Kelly Hammett, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office  is finalizing a plan to acquire software and cloud-based technology for its R2C2 program. 

Why is the Space Force emphasizing the need for software-based tools and technologies to establish its new, uniform command and control system?

09:36 – 10:41

You know, Scott, the ability of ground to meet the needs of these dynamic space architectures can really only be met in a software-based, cloud-enabled environment. Historically, we used monolithic software which seldom would we upgrade software rapidly.

So one of the things that’s able to be achieved in a new model of software design is, you know, microservices that can be readily addressed, updated, modified as technology advances, as security measures are enhanced, as risks are better understood. So just the architecture of how the software is written for existing systems, as opposed to future systems is fundamentally different.

Now, I’m not saying that R2C2 should rely on a commercial network, but the commercial capabilities that have been developed and applied in the commercial realm, can absolutely be recreated in a secure government instance.

10:42 – 10:53

Why is the Space Force turning to its commercial partners for the tools and technologies it needs, to establish this new, uniform command and control system, specifically-tailored for the national security space mission?

10:54 – 12:14

So government turning to commercial, particularly in software, allows the government to leverage the innovation of the commercial industry because the industry has to innovate to survive. If in the commercial world, particularly in space and software, if you’re not innovating, you’re not long for this world. 

And so the developers are so creative and so motivated that the government just has the luxury, the opportunity to adapt, learn from, all of the developments going on, you know, worldwide. Certainly in the United States, but even beyond. As expensive as it is, you can save money because you don’t have to pay for the overhead R&D. You don’t have to pay for the skill.

Commercial tools are typically cheaper than what comes off a government production line. Now, the things that slow us down are typically bureaucracy. It’s not typically, technology. And then you can adapt to changes. You can bring in new capabilities from similar but different software houses, right?

So it doesn’t have to come out of your lab, it doesn’t have to come out of your own production center. And typically commercial tools follow industry standards and they can work smoothly with other systems. So it’s a whole different concept of finding a solution. It also allows the DOD to focus on the mission, as opposed to creating the technology.

12:14 – 12:36

And, sir, you’re a partner with Elara Nova: The Space Consultancy, which is also positioning itself at this intersection between the military and its industry partners.

So from your perspective, what role can Elara Nova and its team of industry and military-experienced consultants serve in opening up communication channels between the military and its industry partners?

12:37 – 13:30

Elara Nova has, not just former generals and admirals, but senior technology and policy men and women who can collectively address a lot of complex problems. When you hire a consultant, you get the capabilities of that person. You hire Mike Carey, you get Mike Carey’s background and who he knows. You hire Elara Nova, you have a network.

You get access to people who have, like Pete Flores, who’s done it. He’s been in the field. He understands how space tactically applies. Or you’ll get somebody who comes out of policy and understands what the dynamics of doing something, might not play so well in the policy realm, but there’s a way to get to it. How to shape a narrative so that it is executable. You’ll find a vast array of expert knowledge of just about anything, but certainly in the space domain.

13:33 – 14:10

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.