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Why Satellite as a Service is the Future of Government SATCOM

One of the most pervasive technology trends of the past decade has been the shift away from purchasing physical IT assets, and a movement towards service offerings.

Software and applications that used to be purchased on physical media and installed on government and military hardware is now hosted in the cloud and accessed online as “Software as a Service.” The physical network hardware and servers that used to comprise government and military networks have been replaced by cloud services and solutions that are referred to as “Infrastructure as a Service.” And the application and development platforms that used to be purchased for use by software development and operations teams is now available through cloud providers and other development platform providers as “Platform as a Service” solutions.

These are just three examples of a trend that some in the technology industry have coined “Everything as a Service” because of how pervasive service offerings have become. But there are very good reasons why the industry has moved in this direction. There are clear benefits to paying for services instead of buying physical assets.

Services can be acquired without a large up-front, capital expenditure. Instead, they’re available as a lower, recurring operating expense. Since many of these service offerings are online and connected, the government’s chosen vendor or partner can push improvements, patches, and new features to users quickly, easily, and – often – at no additional expense to the user. Also, since there is no need to purchase, take delivery of, and install a physical asset, scaling up to meet increased requirements is also easier, faster, and more seamless.

“Satellite as a Service is a better way for the government and military to meet their satellite communications requirements that ensures what is needed for the mission is always readily available.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, since the government is paying for access to a service, and not for a physical asset, they don’t have to worry about the technology they own becoming antiquated, outdated, obsolete, and incapable of meeting modern mission requirements.

Considering the pace of innovation that we’ve witnessed over the past decade, this may be the single most valuable benefit that service offerings can deliver to government and military users. And this is also a large driving factor in why the “as a service” trend is poised to transform the way the government does business with the commercial satellite industry.

Always on the cutting edge
There has been a massive wave of innovation in the commercial space industry, as a whole, over the past decade. Private industry has revolutionized space flight, satellite imagery, and even satellite communications in just the span of a few years – cementing private industry as the de facto leader in innovation in space.

In the satellite communications sector, there have been significant advancements in the quality and quantity of the satellite capabilities that are available to government and military users. Satellite operators launched high-throughput satellites (HTS) into geosynchronous orbit (GEO) that are capable of delivering incredible bandwidth and capacity to users.

But they didn’t stop there.

Today’s satellite operators are launching HTS constellations into orbits closer to Earth. These new HTS satellite constellations in MEO and LEO are delivering that immense bandwidth and capacity to users, but doing so with a fraction of the latency, making it possible for the government and military to send massive amounts of data – from voice, to large files, to HD video – to practically anywhere on the planet in real-time.

Traditionally, the government would lease space or capacity from these satellite operators on the spot market, and then purchase the hardware necessary to access it. If their mission required low latency, high-throughput satellite communications, but they didn’t have the proper hardware to access it, or the correct contracts in place to lease the bandwidth, they had to go without.

Satellite as a Service is a better way for the government and military to meet their satellite communications requirements that ensures what is needed for the mission is always readily available. In this acquisition model, the military effectively leases the most current, up-to-date, and cutting-edge ground systems and hardware needed to access satellite communications. The chosen satellite operator can then provide them with the bandwidth and capacity that’s optimal for their mission requirements.

“…since the government is paying for access to a service, and not for a physical asset, they don’t have to worry about the technology they own becoming antiquated, outdated, obsolete, and incapable of meeting modern mission requirements.”

As Carolyn Cuppernull of SES Government Solutions explained in a recent interview, “In this [Satellite as a Service] model, everything that is necessary for an end-to-end satellite network is delivered as a service. The satellite capacity, the ground hardware – including terminals and antennas – are all included in the service.”

With commercial satellite service providers operating satellite constellations in multiple orbits, purchasing Satellite as a Service effectively means that the government and military will always have access to the communications solutions best suited to their mission requirements.

Should they need to blanket a large area in connectivity and coverage, their Satellite as a Service provider gives them access to wideband satellite connectivity from GEO. Should they need to send HD video from ISR missions back in real-time to be analyzed, their Satellite as a Service provider gives them access to low latency, high-throughput capacity from MEO or LEO.

Regardless of the mission requirement, the government or military user will always have access to the satellite service that is optimized to the mission, and the hardware necessary to access that capacity. This is the value that Satellite as a Service delivers.

The importance of having access to satellite services from multiple orbits was highlighted by Rashid Neighbors of SES Government Solutions, who said:

“The government and military rarely operate in static conditions. The environment changes, the mission shifts and evolves. Having a satellite managed service that gives them access to the latest and greatest technologies, as well as a multi-orbit satellite constellation ensures that they’ll always have the communications and connectivity they need to accomplish their mission – even if mission parameters or requirements change.”

But is the government and military on-board with such a large, fundamental change in how they acquire satellite capacity?

RFIs show the time for Satellite as a Service is now
When it comes to embracing new things in the government and military, the challenge rarely lies in the technology or budgets, and often in the culture of the organizations involved. The government has a long track record of trying to operate in a consistent manner because, “that’s how it’s always been done.” So, it may come as a surprise that there have been strong demand signals for Satellite as a Service from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

According to an article by C4ISRNet’s Mark Pomerleau late last year, the U.S. Army is, “…trying to figure out what the best use and business cases are for owning or renting communications under a managed service model that could possibly replace the design of its logistics network called the sustainment tactical network.”

“Regardless of the mission requirement, the government or military user will always have access to the satellite service that is optimized to the mission, and the hardware necessary to access that capacity. This is the value that Satellite as a Service delivers.”

Part of this effort involved the release of an RFI asking commercial satellite operators to explain how they would deliver satellite capacity as a managed service. The RFI sought to understand how satellite terminal and hardware acquisitions would be conducted, how pricing would be structured, and how military communications could be assured and secured.

According to the article, the Army received approximately 20 responses to that RFI, all with differing approaches to a Satellite as a Service model. But, regardless of the responses and what they contained, the RFI, itself, is a positive sign that Satellite as a Service is the future for the DoD.

Space has been a hotbed of innovation and advancement over the past decade. If the government and military is going to take advantage of the advancements from the satellite industry, they need to rethink how they acquire satellite. Satellite as a Service is the key to ensuring that the government and military always has access to the latest, most cutting-edge technologies in space. And the RFIs and pilot programs being launched by the DoD are evidence that they’re moving in that direction.

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