Working Smarter, Not Harder: Spacecraft Ground Control Made Easy

There’s a revolution happening in the space industry, and we have front row seats. There has been recent news published about how the Government doesn’t want to fund large, unique spacecraft anymore because they are “large, juicy targets.” That also means examining the corresponding ground support from a fresh perspective, acquiring ground capabilities cheaper, faster, and early enough in the process that ground isn’t an afterthought (or “stovepiped”) – without ground, you have a useless rock in the sky. 

There is plenty of room for innovation, and the tide is turning with respect to the trend of using more and more commercial offerings in the space domain. No longer should the Government spend hundreds of millions on ground segments to support spacecraft. With greater numbers of smallsats in space anticipated, ground becomes a bit more difficult due to the sheer volume of spacecraft, but don’t let ground providers fool you – this doesn’t have to come with a price tag. Business models like “as a service” offerings should be utilized to provide resiliency, cost savings, and cybersecurity, leveraging the commercial industry’s technological advancements and speed with which the Government has been unable to keep pace. At every conference, every senior engagement, every meeting, we (the defense industrial base) hear the words that “we need to move faster” and “we need more commercial capability and speed.” In the words of multiple senior leaders in the Space Force, “exploit what we have, buy what we can, and build what we must.”

Taking A Closer Look At The Ground Solution

There is zero need to fund entire armies of ground experts or even operators. None at all. There is also no need for the Government to have to worry about owning and maintaining infrastructure and equipment that becomes obsolete in a short period of time. “As a service” solutions offer the Government the flexibility and resiliency (and any desired level of cybersecurity) at a fraction of the cost by leveraging what already exists. For those that do it right, it can be offered for pennies on the dollar of traditional solutions.

Parsons acquired Braxton Science & Technology Group in 2020, a known disruptor in the satellite ground domain, with a full line of ready-to-go, minimal non-recurring engineering, Commercial Off the Shelf products that outfit any aspect of a satellite operations center – simulation, TT&C, command and control, factory compatibility testing, resource and scheduling optimization, mission planning, front end processors, spacecraft operators and more. We’ve also partnered with multiple commercial antenna providers to stand up OrbitXchange, which allows resilient global access to spacecraft and their data 24/7. We have an innovative commercial spacecraft operations center, which can be run on-prem or cloud-hosted, supporting multiple different missions, classification levels, and unique customer needs with a fully trained spacecraft operations staff. 

How Do We Know That We Can Do This?

We already are. We were sole-sourced the Blackjack Ground Operations contract for DARPA, which is expected to launch this year. We also competed for and won the NOAA POES Extended Life contract to take over spacecraft operations for NOAA’s POES-15, 18, and 19 spacecraft. Leveraging existing commercial capability allowed us to send first vehicle commands within ~5 months of being on contract! We are also on schedule to assume Spacecraft Control Authority (SCA) shortly, enabling NOAA to repurpose their finite resources for other responsibilities. Want more examples? Reach out! Have any spacecraft that either aren’t fully mission capable, or are at the end of their life and/or funding? Give us a call – we’d love to be able to work with you and provide that data without you having to worry about the “how” or “when.” 

Know what else is neat? We’re not only spacecraft ground gurus. We also specialize in digital engineering, space situational awareness, cyber operations, launch integration, alternate positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT), electronic warfare, and many other exciting markets. When you put all those pieces together, Parsons tells a pretty compelling story for delivering technical solutions and commercial capabilities for hard problems on which our customers have been beating their head against the wall for a while.

Surprised? Just wait and see what else we can do.

Heidi Wright

Heidi Wright is the Vice President of Space Solutions at Parsons where she develops and executes strategies involving the future of satellites in space, fostering collaboration with Government and industry partners, and marketing technical capabilities to deliver solutions of value to customer. Heidi holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from Auburn University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with a focus on Innovation Management. 

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