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Digital engineering is critical for Space Security

DOD is giving thrust to Digital Engineering (DE) (also known as model-based engineering or model-based systems engineering) is an initiative developed and championed by ODASD(SE) to help streamline the way defense programs collect, retain, and share data. ODASD(SE) asserts that digital engineering has the potential to promote greater efficiency and coherence in defense programs by ensuring stakeholders have access to accurate, relevant, and consistent information throughout the life of a program.


This DoD Digital Engineering Strategy outlines the Department’s five strategic goals for the digital engineering initiative. The strategy addresses a range of disciplines involved in the acquisition and procurement of national defense systems, and it encourages innovation in the way we build, test, field, and sustain our national defense systems and how we train and shape the workforce to use these practices.


It comprises of incorporating the use of digital computing, analytical capabilities, and new technologies to conduct engineering in more integrated virtual environments to increase customer and vendor engagement, improve threat response timelines, foster infusion of technology, reduce cost of documentation, and impact sustainment affordability. These comprehensive engineering environments will allow DoD and its industry partners to evolve designs at the conceptual phase, reducing the need for expensive mock-ups, premature design lock, and physical testing. This approach can enable DoD programs to prototype, experiment, and test decisions and solutions in a virtual environment before they are delivered to the warfighter.


By using digital models, customers and engineers can more quickly specify, develop, and deploy solutions in response to a rapidly evolving mission space. Digital engineering is transforming acquisition, complex systems engineering and integration, and sustainment from the existing design-build-test paradigm to a model-analyze-build methodology. There are tremendous savings of cost, time, and resources by moving a solution through its full life cycle digitally.


Digital engineering is particularly critical to space programs. Unlike other domains where deployed assets can be more easily retrieved, maintained, and enhanced, what is sent into space is likely what the program is stuck with. Whether the deliverable is a satellite or a spacecraft, digital engineering results in greater confidence – and thus lower risk – in the quality and performance of the solution. Digital technologies enable tools, methods, and processes to enhance transparency, collaboration, and communication among program stakeholders.


Greater insight and integration of development activities lead to better and faster decision-making and also lessen the chances of discovering costly design conflicts during the build stage of a program. This is vital to the speed and efficiency with which space organizations produce solutions for a rapidly changing operational and threat environment. Complex systems and their capabilities have to serve a range of space missions and users. In the past, a sensing capability, for example, was typically optimized for a given satellite constellation using traditional engineering practices.


Through technological advances in areas such as analytics and computing power, digital engineering helps teams evaluate a solution’s capabilities against multiple missions and user requirements. SAIC’s digital engineering performs trade studies, enabling us to assess a great number of variables to determine the configuration that produces the most balanced solution. We can now trade the combined effects of multiple payload types across multiple satellites in many and different constellations. This provides more resilient systems and greater mission assurance as well as systems that are more flexible to change with evolving mission needs.


Space Force unveils its ‘vision for a digital service’

Building on formal guidance issued last fall by the Chief of Space Operations to “Create a Digital Service to Accelerate Innovation,” a new document outlining U.S. Space Force’s “Vision for a Digital Service” was released in May 2021. The Vision provides a clear description of what it means to be a “Digital Service” and outlines the four areas of focus essential to making this vision a reality.


Acknowledging that space is the only physical domain without humans in place to conduct military operations, the digital vision document states “everything our operators experience is derived through data received from space and our ability to rapidly analyze that data to our advantage.”  The document goes on to describe how the characteristics of the space operating environment and the growing threat presented by near-peer competitors generate an imperative to undergo large-scale cultural and technical transformation.


“The establishment of the United States Space Force gave us a generational opportunity to create a Service purpose-built for a contested space domain,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. “Moreover, we are in a unique position because of the global, data-driven nature of our mission to harness data and analytics across the enterprise and serve as a change agent for the entire Department of Defense.”


The Vision for a Digital Service is founded on three key tenets that provide a pathway to a faster, more innovative, and agile service designed to meet the unique demands of the space operating environment: an Interconnected, Innovative, Digitally Dominant force.

First, an Interconnected force effectively and efficiently shares relevant information with a broad array of stakeholders in support of the mission.

Second, an Innovative force routinely embraces new approaches and readily challenges the status quo.

Third, a Digitally Dominant force depends on people – establishing an empowered, digitally fluent workforce that advocates for innovation from every angle.

Informed by these tenets, the Vision for a Digital Service outlines four focus areas that serve as lines of effort for the necessary digital transformation Guardians must lead to achieve this vision:

  • Digital Engineering: The Space Force will foster an interoperable, resilient, and secure Digital Engineering Ecosystem (DEE) that will enable Guardians across the force to rapidly mature innovative concepts into integrated solutions and deliver critical warfighting capability faster.
  • Digital Workforce: The Space Force will attract, educate, develop, and retain the vital talent they need to cultivate digital fluency among all Guardians, and the USSF will equip and empower them to unleash their talent and energy toward bold, innovative solutions.
  • Digital Headquarters: This focus area refers to a function, rather than a location – it represents the ability for all Guardians to make decisions efficiently by removing layers of bureaucracy and enabling and incentivizing data-driven decision making.
  • Digital Operations: The Space Force will drive joint, all-domain solutions in, from, and to space, exploiting advantages provided by interconnected infrastructure and an innovative, digitally-fluent workforce.


The Digital Vision will be accompanied by a subsequent Transformational Roadmap product, which will delve into more detail and identify the key ongoing and planned actions required to make progress toward achieving the Vision. The roadmap is expected to be released in summer 2021.


Space force building distributed architecture for missile warning

Meanwhile, the Space Development Agency is developing a new constellation that will also track missiles, made of hundreds of satellites closer to the surface in low Earth orbit. Those are to start operating years before the Space Force could expand its missile warning system. That sort of distributed architecture across the three levels of orbit not only would offer flexibility; it would ensure adversaries can’t knock America’s space capabilities offline by disabling or destroying a single satellite. If the satellites in geostationary orbit aren’t available, the Space Force can rely on satellites in other orbits.


Now, digital engineering tools are giving Space Force officials new insight into how to achieve that distributed architecture to augment high-orbit satellites that watch for missiles. The service is heavily investing in digital engineering concepts that have made headway in parts of the aerospace community and other industries, enabling it to test and validate new satellite designs and constellation structures in a digital environment. More than simply providing graphics, the tools allow users to test their designs in simulations that accurately represent space environments, and track how changes affect performance.


America’s next missile warning constellation — the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared — was designed as one of those large, exquisite systems with sophisticated, expensive technology. The first block will comprise five satellites placed in high orbit, effectively replacing the Space Based Infrared System satellites in a like-for-like move with some small changes. The Space and Missile Systems Center awarded Lockheed Martin $2.9 billion in 2018 to design three geostationary satellites, and $4.9 billion in 2021 to build them. Northrop Grumman secured $2.4 billion to design the constellation’s two polar satellites.


But in May, the Space Force announced two contracts that could radically change the future of the system. The SMC issued two awards — $29 million for Raytheon Technologies and about $28 million for Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing subsidiary — to build digital models of the next generation of Next Gen OPIR satellites. The companies will use digital engineering practices not only to design the satellites, but to validate whether they can effectively operate in medium Earth orbit. A transition to MEO satellites would be a seismic shift for America’s missile warning architecture, and the move to use digital engineering provides one of the first looks at what the Space Force meant when it said it wanted to be the world’s first fully digital service.


“MEO has a lot of great benefits,” said Millennium Space Systems CEO Jason Kim. “What MEO does is you can see a larger swath of the Earth with less satellites than in LEO — LEO you would need hundreds of satellites to get to global coverage, and if you lose some of the satellites in critical spots that opens up a gap in coverage. LEO is also limited by the horizon.” That poses a challenge for SDA’s planned LEO missile tracking satellites, which will operate closer to Earth to more easily detect hypersonic weapons. Their limited vantage means they only track the weapons for a short period before those missiles disappear behind the horizon. As part of its study contract with the Space Force, Raytheon used internally developed algorithms to show how placing Next Gen OPIR satellites in MEO could provide resiliency through layers while also picking up performance at a discount over exquisite systems’ prices.


According to Rob Aalseth, executive director with strategic systems in Raytheon Intelligence and Space’s space and command-and-control systems division, said analog design practices are more divided, with individuals and teams working on the satellite system’s different parts. In that environment, it might not be immediately apparent how a change on one part could affect the rest of the system. With digital engineering, on the other hand, every team member has access to every part of the design, and changes to one part of the system are reflected immediately in the digital model. The team is able to see how work by an individual affects system performance.


The high-fidelity environments that digital engineers use more accurately show how the system will work on orbit. They’re more than simple animations — engineers are able to take the actual dimensions, capabilities and physical properties of the system and test them in a realistic re-creation.



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