Space Command looks to lighter, cheaper space gear

By: Lt. Gen. ELLEN M. PAWLIKOWSKI Guest columnist
May 19, 2013 Updated: May 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm
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When we talk about our armed services today, we would be hard pressed to avoid discussing sequestration and the impacts of such significant budget cuts on our warfighters.

Consequently, the Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, is exploring new ideas to address budgetary constraints in addition to the increasingly congested, contested and competitive space environment we operate in today. At the Space and Missile Systems Center, which is the Space Command unit for acquiring and delivering space assets to our warfighters, we are implementing short-term solutions as well as charting the long-term strategy for our nation's future space needs.

Over the past year, the Space and Missile Systems Center has been working with our industry partners to make our space systems more affordable. One major focus is finding ways to drive down costs in our programs.

Instead of asking what something could cost, we are asking ourselves what it should cost. In essence, we are increasing scrutiny to ensure we maximize lessons learned and leverage cost efficiencies from past programs. Using this and other methods, we realized upwards of $1 billion in savings across Air Force space capabilities last year. Looking further into the future, the Space and Missile Systems Center is engaging in numerous efforts to evaluate alternative ways to meet the need for capabilities from space.

Traditionally, our strategy has been to load multiple missions onto every spacecraft because the cost of launch was prohibitively expensive. Now with a thriving commercial medium launch market at hand, we are looking to leverage the new commercial market by separating the missions from each other and thereby reducing the size of our satellites. Doing so is beneficial to us in many ways. First, the upfront costs are significantly lower.

Traditional satellites can weigh up to 10,000 pounds, including spacecraft and fuel. Of course, the more size, weight, and power a satellite requires, the heftier the overall price tag gets.

By focusing on single missions, we can build smaller satellites or payloads that can be hosted on commercial satellites. This drastically reduces weight and costs as well as design and manufacturing time, affording us greater opportunities to insert updated technology into space more frequently. Lastly, distributing our assets improves our resiliency to threats and system failure by not putting "all our eggs in one basket." These are just some ways Space Command is ensuring we continue delivering the space capabilities our nation depends on!


Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski is Commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Air Force Space Command, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. She is responsible for more than 6,000 employees nationwide and an annual budget of $10 billion. As the Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, Pawlikowski manages the research, design, development, acquisition, and sustainment of satellites.

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