Space Force Satellite Control Network Is In Urgent Need of Upgrades, Watchdog Says
The Space Force system for controlling U.S. government satellites is in urgent need of an update, and the branch also needs an up-to-date plan for delivering it, the Government Accountability Office said in a report published April 10.
The Satellite Control Network (SCN) is made up of 19 antennas stationed around the world, from Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean to the village of Oakhanger in southern England to Schriever Space Force Base, Colo., where the primary control center for SCN is located.
SCN operators use the antennas to track a satellite’s location, collect its health and status reports, and send signals to control its subsystems such as power supply, antennas and mechanical and thermal control. These functions are collectively called tracking, telemetry, and commanding (TT&C), and satellite users across the federal government rely on the Space Force’s SCN operators for TT&C support.
The satellites controlled by the SCN support a wide range of important activities such as positioning, navigation, and timing; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; missile warning and missile defense; communications; weather; and research and development, the GAO noted in its report. But as space becomes increasingly crowded with government satellites, the growing demand for SCN operations has fallen on an aging antenna network that is difficult to maintain and too small to meet the need.
“The SCN makes over 450 daily contacts with satellites,” GAO wrote. “Satellite users who rely on the SCN and whom GAO interviewed said that this increased demand, and resulting limits on system availability, could compromise their missions in the future.”
The problem is not new to the Department of Defense, which has known of the challenges facing SCN capacity since at least 2011, the GAO wrote. The military even developed a plan in 2017 for the long-term sustainment of SCN. However, the large reorganization of the military’s space authorities that occurred after Space Force was launched in late 2019 meant that the Life-Cycle Sustainment Plan (LCSP) is in need of an update to match the current organizational structure. The Space Force initially estimated an update the LCSP would arrive by the fall of 2022, but that update is yet to materialize.
“Without updating the LCSP for the SCN in a timely fashion, Space Force will not have sufficient information to appropriately plan and budget SCN sustainment efforts in the future,” the report states.
Part of the challenge affecting the SCN today is that its antennas can maintain contact with only one satellite at a time, and not for very long before the satellite passes over the horizon and out of contact, as Air & Space Forces Magazine has previously reported.
This has led to a scheduling system where SCN users contact the Space Force’s 22nd Space Operations Squadron to request a contact time, and the 22nd SOPS uses a prioritization matrix to schedule a time and assign operators from the 21st or 23rd Space Operations Squadrons to carry out the contact, the GAO report notes.
The problem is that as demand for SCN support grows and supply of contact times does not keep pace, scheduling conflicts occur and are exacerbated by unexpected outages, maintenance needs, or emergencies like recovering a satellite that has drifted out of its planned orbit. There were 15,780 scheduling conflicts from January 2021 through June 2022 alone, GAO noted. And as the current antenna infrastructure ages, SCN operators have to choose between maintenance needs and satisfying demand. Deferred maintenance can lead to antenna failures, one of which lasted 18 months before it could be restored to function.
Outdated infrastructure further aggravates the problem. The Space Force has had to pay a manufacturer to create a production line for making replacement parts for obsolete SCN equipment, GAO noted, and branch officials at Schriever Space Force Base, the primary control center for SCN, said the power infrastructure there is so out of date that “efforts to maintain current operations at the base are unsustainable and mitigation efforts are close to exhausted.”
How to fix it
The Space Force is aware of its growing SCN problem and has several efforts for fixing it. One effort is called the Satellite Communication Augmentation Resource (SCAR), a phased-array antenna that would allow each antenna to contact 18 to 20 different satellites at the same time rather than the one-at-a-time limit imposed by today’s parabolic SCN antennas. It would also cost less to operate the SCAR system, but the technology requires further development, a prototype is not expected until 2025, and operational units may not be available until the 2030s.
In the meantime, the Space Force is working to expand SCN capacity and make SCN scheduling more efficient. These include using five National Oceana and Atmospheric Administration antennas to help boost capacity, though it will take until the end of fiscal year 2024 for necessary upgrades to be finished. The Space Force is also exploring using commercial antennas to increase SCN capacity, though the number of commercial antennas available would depend on how many could meet government bandwidth and cybersecurity requirements.
Meanwhile, the Space Force is also looking to make its scheduling system more efficient by replacing its current “manual and labor-intensive process” with a cloud-based system, GAO wrote. The branch also plans on yanking out 80 percent of the current number of old modems, decoders, and data processors and replacing them with new, lower-footprint systems that would cut down on maintenance time by 20 to 25 percent.
However, some of these changes were not included in the 2017 Life-Cycle Sustainment Plan (LCSP), and the GAO report authors worry that could throw off the Space Force’s implementation of the plan. Branch officials say an ongoing challenge has been delineating between headquarters staff and field commands as to who is responsible for the overall SCN architecture and how those responsible can assess new systems or augment the current architecture, the report states.
Though the Space Force is working on an update for the plan, officials say it has been delayed due to reasons “including updating SCN budget information and an unclear process to finalize the LCSP,” the GAO wrote.
The need to finalize and implement the plan is urgent as the Space Force expects the number of satellites requiring SCN contacts to more than double between 2019 and 2027.
Fact check: Here’s the truth about crime in Manhattan
As former President Donald Trump and his allies attack Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is prosecuting Trump on felony charges of falsifying business records, the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Monday in Manhattan to castigate Bragg for his handling of violent crime.
But Trump and other Republicans, including committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and former Vice President Mike Pence, have made false claims about the crime situation in Manhattan and New York City. Contrary to their claims in recent weeks, neither the borough of Manhattan nor the city as a whole has been even close to a record level of crime, violent crime or murder since Bragg was sworn in as Manhattan’s top prosecutor in 2022.
And Bragg’s office is correct when it points out that Manhattan has experienced declines in key crime categories so far in 2023 compared with 2022. However, it’s also true that many of Manhattan’s crime numbers increased in 2022 compared with 2021.
It’s impossible to quantify how much Bragg had to do with either the 2023 decrease (it’s early in the year) or the 2022 increase (which was a continuation of a trend that began months before Bragg was elected in 2021); in general, it is extremely difficult to determine how much any jurisdiction’s crime numbers, positive or negative, can be attributed to the local district attorney. There is always a complicated mix of factors at play, from the economy to policing to the corrections system to social policy to the weather to, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have a tendency to want to blame one person, or credit one person, when in reality these are complex systems that rise and fall for often complex, random reasons that we don’t have the ability to explain – but it’s easier to say, ‘It was Joe Schmoe over there,’” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst and consultant and co-founder of the firm AH Datalytics.
Here’s a look at what Manhattan crime numbers actually show and do not show.
Global EV sales jump 66% in 2022, lifting market share to 9.5%
Global electric vehicle sales climbed 66.6 percent in 2022 from a year earlier to 7.26 million units, data from a research firm showed Saturday, reflecting a rapid shift in the industry to zero-emission vehicles to meet stricter emission regulations.
The number accounts for 9.5 percent of overall auto sales of 76.21 million vehicles last year, expanding from 5.5 percent in 2021, according to Tokyo-based MarkLines Co.
European and Chinese automakers are boosting EV sales, while Japanese carmakers strive to catch up with global rivals.
Honda Motor Co., for example, has teamed with Sony Group Corp. to set up a 50-50 venture to make new electric vehicles. Toyota Motor Corp. plans to expand its all-electric vehicle lineup and boost its EV sales to 1.5 million vehicles annually by 2026.
Excluding EVs, global sales fell 7.4 percent to 68.95 million vehicles.
By market, China posted an about 80 percent surge in EV sales to 4.53 million vehicles while Western Europe including Germany and Britain saw EV sales soar by about 30 percent to about 1.53 million vehicles.
Approximately 800,000 EVs were sold in the United States last year and 50,000 in Japan.
Among EV makers, the leading manufacturer, Tesla Inc., boosted sales to around 1.27 million vehicles in 2022 from about 880,000 the year before. Chinese EV giant BYD Co. sold approximately 870,000 vehicles last year, compared with 320,000 the previous year.
The alliance of Nissan Motor Co., French partner Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. ranked seventh with sales of about 280,000 EVs.
Toyota, the world’s largest auto seller, sold 24,000 EVs in 2022, according to the company.
Saints had options at wide receiver in Mel Kiper’s latest two-round mock
The Saints add two offensive players with their first three picks.
Another day, another mock draft. This time it’s ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr.’s recent two-round mock draft (Insider required) that has the New Orleans Saints address their top three positions of need with their first three picks.
A run of receivers in the first fifteen picks, including Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson (8th overall to the Atlanta Falcons), USC’s Drake London (10th overall to the New York Jets), and Ohio State WR Chris Olave (15th overall to the Philadelphia Eagles), left the Saints without a bunch of options at the 16th pick. Tackles Ikem Ekwonu out of NC State (5th to the Giants), Alabama’s Evan Neal (9th to the Seattle Seahawks), and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross (13th to the Houston Texans) left the Saints without many options there either. Quarterback Malik Willis out of Liberty was also off the board, landing in the NFC South to the rival Carolina Panthers 6th overall.
This left some of the top prospects on the board as LB Nakobe Dean out of Georgia, LT Trevor Penning out of Iowa, DT Jordan Davis from Georgia, Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett, and Alabama WR Jameson Williams, all of whom fit with the Saints needs.
In Kiper’s mock, the Saints passed on Kenny Pickett and instead opted to replace Terron Armstead on the left side of the offensive line by selecting Trevor Penning:
16. New Orleans Saints (via PHI/IND)
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Speaking of the Saints, I have a hard time believing the trade with the Eagles was to take a quarterback. Why wouldn’t they try to move up higher? (Unless there’s another move to come.) It’s possible they think they are NFC contenders this season and could be put over the edge with two more starters. With that in mind, here’s a tackle who could replace Terron Armstead on the left side. Penning is a nasty, physical blocker who is ready to play immediately.
In the two picks immediately following the Saints’ selection at 16, the pair of Georgia defensive players – Nakobe Dean and Jordan Davis – were picked, leaving the Saints with yet another opportunity to draft Kenny Pickett if the team so desired.
Instead, the Saints take the best receiver on the board, picking Alabama’s Jameson Williams:
19. New Orleans Saints (via PHI)
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Even if Michael Thomas comes back healthy, the Saints should address wide receiver with one of their two first-round picks. Williams would have been in the discussion to be the No. 1 wideout in this class, but he tore his ACL in the national title game in January and could miss a little time in 2022. He could be a superstar once he’s healthy; he has explosive speed and was uncoverable for the Crimson Tide last season. ACL injuries aren’t even close to career-ending anymore, so I don’t see this as a risky pick. Williams is worth it.
Pickett ended up going one pick later to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and fellow RAS-star, Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder, was the first quarterback taken in the second round, 40th overall to the Seattle Seahawks.
When the Saints were on the clock with the 49th pick, they had plenty of options still at quarterback (North Carolina’s Sam Howell, anyone?), and grabbed Ole Miss signal-caller Matt Corral:
49. New Orleans Saints
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Corral is a tough evaluation. He wants to play like Josh Allen but doesn’t have the size — he’s only 6-foot-2. He was the only player in the country last season with 3,300-plus passing yards and 500-plus rushing yards. Will he be able to consistently make every throw in the NFL? That’s why I think he’s a safer bet on Day 2. He would make a lot of sense in New Orleans, where he could get an evaluation year behind Jameis Winston.
Options available for the Saints at 49 if they passed on Corral included wide receivers like Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, Alabama’s John Metchie III, and Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce; Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III; and a pair of tight ends in UCLA’s Greg Dulcich and Colorado State’s Trey McBride.
That left the Saints with QB Matt Corral, LT Trevor Penning, and WR Jameson Williams from their first three picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Other possible sets include QB Kenny Pickett, WR Jameson Williams, and T Abraham Lucas; DT Jordan Davis, WR Christian Watson, TE Trey McBride; or even LT Trevor Penning, QB Kenny Pickett, and WR Jalen Tolbert.
Which set would you prefer? Would you be happy with Mel Kiper’s mock draft if the board fell that way for New Orleans? Let us know in the comments. Send me presents.
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