Imagine waking up to find that everyday technologies we take for granted have gone dark. No Internet. No smartphones. No weather forecasts in the palm of your hand. Nightmarish flight delays thanks to a hobbled air traffic management system. A military that’s literally fighting blind: No satellite imagery. No reliable global communications. No precision-guided anything.
Our economic and national security have become increasingly intertwined as our reliance on satellite services has continued to grow.
Often overlooked and frequently taken for granted, many satellite services, particularly those enabled by the Global Positioning System, are a key multiplier for bedrock industries such as aviation and transportation, shipping and distribution, banking, communications and farming. Research conducted by Gary Oleson, a senior engineer with TASC’s space systems sector, shows that over the last decade, growth in the global space economy has consistently outperformed global economic growth. Yet, in national discussions that focus on key economic enablers, the space industry is rarely part of the equation. It’s not a stretch to say commerce as we know it would come to a screeching halt without our space capabilities.
Let’s focus on GPS for a moment. Brad Parkinson, considered by many to be the father of GPS, recently stated that “there are at least 64 unique applications that are fueled by the GPS signal.” Dating back to 1983, these innovations have led to over “$55 [billion] per year in tangible benefits. Many of the emerging automated applications such as fully automated landing of airplanes, automatic control of land vehicles (cargo cranes to bulldozers), and robotic farming are dependent on GPS. Any significant degradation to the GPS System that would damage these benefits, independent of any stated original characteristic, would be greatly detrimental to the U.S. interest.”
Gen. John Hyten, the head of U.S. Air Force Space Command, has said that “without satellites, you go back to World War II. You go back to Industrial Era warfare.” How could this happen? As Hyten explains it: “a peer- or near-peer competitor severely limits U.S. forces’ access to military communications and navigation spacecraft through jamming or something more destructive, such as anti-satellite weapons.”
What are a few recommendations to ensure that we address the possibility of a day without space?
First and foremost, the industry needs to broaden its targeted audience when articulating the importance of space based assets. Over the past decade, the CompTIA Space Enterprise Council has held a forum series titled “A Day Without Space.” In each forum, we’ve focused on a different business vertical (transportation, agribusiness, energy, etc.), explaining how the end users have embedded space assets into their portfolio, the economic benefits derived, and the potential impact on their respective businesses if they were denied access to the space assets. A broad-based business coalition discussing the importance of these applications for our economic and national security could be a very potent voice.
A second recommendation is ensuring the sustainability of Gen. Hyten’s Space Enterprise Vision. The vision calls for moving toward a multi-domain mindset that relies on “the integration of all the domains — land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace — working together to deliver an effect in the battlefield.” At the 32nd National Space Symposium in April, Hyten focused on the importance of space and cyber effects on the battlefield, saying, “Those soldiers on the battlefield in the Middle East can never be left alone.”
Stovepipes MUST be broken down. It is time that we stop trying to protect our rice bowls and start thinking of the broader picture.
A final recommendation is to ensure that we have resiliency built into our space enterprise. Specifically, we need resiliency in our cyber capabilities — the ability to operate in the face of persistent attacks. Resilience enables the government to continue to provide services to the public, and industry to continue to serve employees and customers while fending off or reacting to cyber-attacks. The space and technology industries must work together to help create a comprehensive cyber resiliency plan for our nation. Without cyber resiliency we do not have mission resiliency.
David Logsdon is the executive director of of the CompTIA Space Enterprise Council.