WASHINGTON — The Space Force released its vision for integrated testing of satellites, sensors, ground systems and other capabilities, laying out a plan to develop the organizations and infrastructure needed to operate in an increasingly contested environment.
The vision document, signed in March by Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson and released Tuesday, calls for the establishment of an agile testing force as well as a more capable range infrastructure that can support the service as integrates capabilities including artificial intelligence and proliferated satellite constellations.
The Space Force, and previously the Air Force, traditionally tested capabilities with two primary factors in mind: ensuring that a satellite can survive launch and that it can operate in a harsh environment. Evolving threats from adversaries such as China and Russia caused the service to rethink how it designs spacecraft. That shift, the document states, requires a new approach to how the it tests systems.
“To stay ahead, the USSF test enterprise must evolve to address the very real threat environment and the emergence of new technologies and capabilities while maximizing the efficiency of an extremely small service if we are to deliver credible warfighting capabilities on operationally relevant timelines,” the document said.
The Space Force in August established Space Training and Readiness Command, responsible for advancing the service’s test and training enterprise. STARCOM will play a key role in developing integrated test forces and operating range infrastructure. It will work closely with other organizations, including the Space Force’s test and evaluation team, Space Operations Command, Space Systems Command and the Space Warfighting Analysis Center’s force designers.
To move toward this more integrated approach, the service is focused on establishing a testing organization, developing its workforce and making investments in infrastructure.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday, STARCOM Commander Major Gen. Shawn Bratton said a key feature of the organization is that it will streamline developmental and operational testing. Rather than conduct developmental testing as a system is being built and operational testing to validate that work, STARCOM envisions the service could combine those efforts, saving time and money.
“Instead of conducting two separate tests with two separate test scores at two different times, we’ll both reduce schedule and then we think we’ll be more efficient just because we’ll conduct a single integrated test activity that will cover down on the requirements for both the developmental test and operational test,” he said. “We’ve got to prove that in execution and gather data to show that it is, but we absolutely believe it will save money.”
On the infrastructure piece, the service plans to establish a National Space Test and Training Complex, which will combine high-fidelity virtual testing capabilities with an on-orbit range.
“Our ability to effectively deliver vital space capabilities to the warfighter will be defined by our ability to develop the multi-venue, live-virtual-constructive NSTTC needed to test those capabilities,” the document said. “The complex will be lean, efficient, interoperable with other joint test infrastructure, supporting multiple interests within the Space Force.”
Space Systems Command will lead development of the NSTTC infrastructure, working closely with STARCOM and the operational users to define requirements and integrate capabilities. The service is in the process of developing a capability roadmap for NSTTC.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET's space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.