Space Systems Command Looking to Expand On-Orbit Abilities with New Mission Area: Space Access, Mobility and Logistics

  • Published
  • By Lisa Sodders, SSC Public Affairs
Assuring the nation’s unfettered access to space was only the beginning. Space Systems Command (SSC) is now developing the next evolution of its mission with a new Space Access, Mobility and Logistics program.

Space Access, Mobility and Logistics is now part of SSC’s Assured Access to Space (AATS) directorate under Maj Gen. Stephen G. Purdy. The focus of the program will be refueling satellites in space – both in LEO and GEO orbits -- as well as such capabilities as space tugs, orbital debris remediation and activities in cislunar space.

Leading this new mission will be Col. Meredith Beg, deputy director ty director of Operations, Space Mobility and Logistics.

“We’ve been successfully accomplishing the ‘space access’ part of SSC’s mission for a long time under AATS,” Beg said. “The new part of the mission is mobility and logistics; I was brought in to establish the Program of Record that will deliver those capabilities to our nation and our warfighters.”

“It’s an enormous vision and it cannot be a U.S. Space Force (USSF) activity alone,” Beg said. “We absolutely need to work with our partners at NASA, collaborate with our industry partners and international teammates to make sure we all collectively use space responsibly.”

The benefits to the United States and its allies could be tremendous. Beg said SSC will be exploring how it could use commercial capabilities to maneuver and service its constellation of satellites in GEO, including adjusting satellites’ inclination, changing orbital slots, refueling satellites that are low on fuel, and tugging assets to a graveyard orbit after they have used all their on-board reserves.

Most of the technology SSC is looking at already exists at some level, and government entities and space industry partners are interested in making strategic investments to develop the most promising capabilities further, Beg said.

“There’s on the order of more than 50 start-ups and various companies that are investing in these capabilities from small-scale robotic arms with little pincers to grab things to big-blow-up nets (for space debris,)” Beg said. “The venture capital world is very excited about these possibilities.”

“In-depth market research at SSC indicates a rich set of offerings for any Space Access, Mobility and Logistics (SML) acquisition strategy USSF seeks to pursue,” said Roberta Ewart, strategic technical director and chief technology officer for SSC.
“The technical community has been working since the 80’s -- including NASA and DARPA experimentation and demonstration efforts -- breaking down technical barriers with space shuttle and Orbital Express missions,” Ewart said.
“We are pleased to see everyone taking advantage of these investments to help speed up USSF SML procurements,” Ewart said.
USSF has already made some strategic investments in this area, including $17 million to the U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to improve the USSF’s technology readiness level.
“Many of the capabilities the USSF is looking to add are already on orbit, as prototypes,” Beg said. The USSF also is in close partnership with AFWERX and SpaceWERX, collaborating on their targeted investments through their Orbital Prime contract.
AATS received $30 million in the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act in Research Development Test & Evaluation (RDTE) funds to help advance development of a concept of operations, including working through what space assets are on orbit or planned to be on orbit and how to potentially leverage those assets to service or intercept and tow to a graveyard orbit should something go wrong, Beg said.

The AFRL Rocket Cargo Vanguard program, which is developing the ability to land a rocket on a wide range of non-traditional materials and surfaces, including at remote sites, also will be transitioning to the Space Access, Mobility and Logistics portfolio once Vanguard is complete, Beg said.

“We’re in close partnership with our teammates at AFRL to figure out how we smartly and effectively transition it from a science and technology (S&T) activity to an operational activity,” Beg said.

“We talk about point-to-point delivery,” Beg said. “You could have a launching pad at Cape Canaveral or Vandenberg Space Force Base and be able to deliver cargo to the Philippines in 37 minutes if needed, for humanitarian activities. There are also opportunities for these systems to loiter on orbit and do space drop missions. Rocket Cargo could help us have fueling depots on orbit.”

Beg and other AATS officials also have been meeting with government and commercial space industry partners at various conferences and events this year, including the recent Space Mobility Conference co-sponsored by AATS and SpaceCom on Feb. 21 in Orlando, Fla. More than 1,100 professionals from across the space industry attended the inaugural event which covered national service-based infrastructure needs for spaceports, launches and on-orbit maneuvering as they relate to U.S. national defense strategies. Conference participants also had access to attend the Space Com / Space Congress Expo Feb. 21-23.

Keynote speakers at the conference included SSC’s Maj. Gen. Purdy, Lt. Gen Stephen Whiting, commander, Space Operations Command, and Lt. Gen John Shaw, deputy commander, U.S. Space Command. Panel discussion topics focused on spaceports; space vehicle adaptation to a mobility environment; rapid delivery and rocket cargo; on-orbit servicing; and orbital debris.