Defense Business Brief: Space Symposium preview; Lockheed space efforts; Poland wants Abrams service center; and more.
Good afternoon from Colorado Springs, where I’ll be attending the Space Symposium this week!
A few months back, I told you about space technologies Lockheed Martin envisioned being commonplace by 2050. I recently chatted with Dan Tenney, vice president of strategy and business development at Lockheed Martin Space, to unpack some of the military space technology the company is working on right now—many of which are already, or soon will be, on orbit.
Later this year, Lockheed Martin is planning to launch TACSAT, which stands for tactical satellite.
“It's going to demonstrate fencing and communication capabilities, really in the realm of [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],” Tenney said. “It's designed to participate in a series of exercises that demonstrate cross domain kill-web connectivity.”
The satellite is for the Space Development Agency’s Transportation Layer-Tranche Zero design and “reducing risk on future tranches and providing flexibility to prototype new payloads,” Tenney said.
“This is all about showing how space can provide global battle awareness, sensing, connectivity, even in the most austere, denied contested areas,” he said.
TACSAT will also host Lockheed Martin’s first 5G.mil payload. 5G.mil is what the company calls its efforts to connect different types of weapons to one another. The infrared communications payload, essentially a translation device, will allow military assets in the air, land, and sea to communicate electronically with one another.
“This enables us to have multiple [communications] methodologies from the same device, if you will, in a faster way than we've ever done before,” Tenney said.
Next is Pony Express 2, which has nothing to do with horses or delivering the mail. It’s a company-funded effort “will demonstrate a mesh network and a tactical comm system in space.” Toaster-sized satellites will use artificial intelligence to move in sequence with one another.
The AI “will autonomously monitor telemetry and other aspects faster than we could,” Tenney said. The algorithms will allow the spacecraft “to maintain tight formations within a couple of kilometers [of] each other to show the capability of using more efficient ion propulsion that's not normally used in this kind of flight.”
What’s the value of putting a mesh network in space?
“Putting a mesh network in space allows us to communicate faster, we can process quicker, we can also have resilient capabilities of how we depend on those particular capabilities in space in case of a failure,” Tenney said.
Another technology the company is developing: Cube satellites that can update other satellites already on-orbit. For decades, after a satellite launches, whatever left the Earth’s atmosphere remains unchanged for however long it circles the planet. But that could soon change.
Lockheed is also developing LINUSS, which stands for Lockheed Martin In-space Upgrade Satellite System. “LINUSS will demonstrate how we can leverage cubesats to regularly upgrade satellite constellations, to both add new capabilities, as well as extend design life,” Tenney said. “The other thing LINUSS is going to do, we're going to have a miniaturized space domain awareness capability on board.” LINUSS was launched last year and will be tested soon.
The company continues to tout the potential for its LM 400, refrigerator-sized, satellite bus, which is slated to launch for the first time later this year.
“What we're really designing around the LM 400 is to leverage and emphasize commonalities across both missions as well as customers, so it will span civil, commercial, and military customers, which allows us to produce it faster and bring down the cost significantly,” Tenney said.
The satellite, which is around the size of the thousands of satellites the Space Development Agency is expected to buy, is reconfigurable, meaning it could host different sensors like communications, imaging, or radars. Lockheed plans to build 18 LM 400 satellites by 2028.
Now back to the Space in 2050 event I mentioned earlier. A lot of policy makers, congressional staffers, and military officials made their way through the exhibits and many filled out a survey. Here are some of the results and takeaways in four key areas:
The first is that AI will inevitably play an incredibly important role in space. “Artificial intelligence really underpins the future,” Tenney said. “50 percent of our attendees that we have surveyed, stated that AI would have a bigger impact in 2050 than any other technology that was on display.”
A “rapid economic growth” is expected for the space industry. Some “38 percent said they believe the space economy would account for 10 percent or more of the global economy by the year 2050,” Tenney said.
Tangentially, some “80 percent believe that the space community was not receiving enough investment at the current time to enable the technologies that we want to see,” Tenney said.
Finally, 66 percent of our survey participants said that they believe we would have a lunar economy by the year 2050,” he said, meaning there are “things on the moon that are contributing to how we live.”
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If you’re looking for something to do this evening, I’ll be hosting a cocktails and conversations event at 5 p.m. (Mountain Time) at Phantom Canyon Brewing Company. We’ll be talking about what the U.S. Space Force is doing to attract startups and commercial companies with unique technologies with Major Phil Duddles, the Space Enterprise Consortium program manager for space mobility, and MJ Jones from the Space Systems Center Front Door office.
Here are the deets: Building the Front Door: How the Space Force is Streamlining Acquisition at the Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, 2 E Pikes Peak Ave, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. Make sure you register, here.
The Space Symposium is unique in that it brings together space leaders from around the world for not just military space projects, but also civil and commercial efforts. You also never know who is going to show up. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson—any or all of them are possible. Until recently, the Russians also used to show up at the event, since space was one of the few areas of cooperation left between Washington and Moscow.
While we’ll predominantly be focusing on military space issues, this year’s symposium comes on the heels of NASA naming the crew for the Artemis 2 mission that will serve as a precursor for humans returning to the moon. That said, there will be a sizable Pentagon presence, including Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall; Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman; Gen. James Dickinson, head of U.S. Space Command; John Plumb, the assistant secretary for space policy; Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary for research and engineering; Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear; and NRO Director Christopher Scolese.
Here’s the full agenda. Make sure you follow my colleague Audrey Decker and me on Twitter and while you’re at it, give Defense One a follow on Instagram. We’ll be posting pictures and videos there throughout the week.
A new McKinsey report is out with some good data about the future of space launch: The cost of launching satellites continues to fall dramatically. “The price of heavy launches to low-Earth orbit (LEO) has fallen from $65,000 per kilogram to $1,500 per kilogram—more than a 95 percent decrease.”
McKinsey estimates between 18,000 and 67,000 satellites will be on orbit by 2030, depending on a variety of factors. It looked at a low, base, and high case scenario. We’ll look at the middle case here. “In the base case, we anticipate 27,000 active satellites in orbit by the end of 2030, almost a four-fold increase from today,” the report states. “To maintain that number at the assumed lifespan, there would need to be 4,000 to 5,000 satellites launched per year.”
The high estimate largely depends on whether the SpaceX Starship rocket is operational. If so, a fleet of reusable rockets would need to be launching just about daily to achieve the high estimates.
Who’s launching the most satellites? Well that’s SpaceX, which plans to launch 42,000 Starlink spacecraft to provide broadband internet access.
In non-space related happenings, Poland Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki was in the United States last week, meeting with defense industry executives. At the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, Morawiecki watched U.S. and Polish forces train with Abrams tanks; Poland is buying 366 Abrams. While there, they discussed possibly setting up an Abrams maintenance depot in Poland, The First News reports. "We discussed the possibility of establishing a service center for the Abrams tanks," he said.
Per the Polish press agency: “Morawiecki [said] he was interested in the transfer of the investments to the Polish market, which he said was huge in terms of the maintenance and development of military equipment.”
At a Lockheed Martin factory in Marietta, Georgia, Morawiecki signed the bulkhead of Poland’s first F-35 stealth fighter. Lockheed is scheduled to deliver the first of 32 Polish jets in 2024. The final one is expected to arrive in 2030.
Meanwhile, Romania said it aims to buy F-35 stealth fighters. Romania already flies U.S.-made F-16 fighters.
Textron’s Government Affairs and Washington Operations has hired Theodore “TC” Williams, a former Senate Armed Services Committee staffer and retired U.S. Army colonel, as executive director of legislative affairs.