Cost Considerations of Transition toward a Disaggregated Satellite Architecture
Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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The US is disaggregating space architectures by splitting missions currently combined on large satellites into mission-specific smaller satellites. Disaggregation offers five potential key advantages resiliency, technology refresh, industrial base, adaptability, and cost. Experts essentially concur on the first four advantages, but disagree about cost.The reason for disagreement on whether disaggregation will save money is that space system cost modeling depends heavily on the assumptions underlying the models. Based on the assumptions currently used today, disaggregation is likely to cost more than continuing the status quo modeling the costs to disaggregate a hypothetical communications satellite into four smaller satellites illustrates this finding.The key to lowering the cost of disaggregation is to examine the major underlying assumptions that are driving cost conclusions. Cost advantages will emerge from disaggregated architectures when the US significantly reduces launch costs, significantly increases resiliency requirements, andor values architecture flexibility more highly.All three of these factors advantageous to disaggregated architectures are trending favorably and the US could accelerate them to enable cost-effective disaggregation. The US should switch to competitively procured US commercial launch capabilities, backed up by foreign capabilities when needed. In addition, the US national security space enterprise should incorporate resiliency requirements into space architectures and value architecture flexibility more highly. Finally, the US must recognize that the transition to disaggregated architectures will be challenging, politically more than technically. US space leaders should pay attention to disaggregation implementation details such as budget phasing, formal requirements and policies, and countering inertia and other barriers to change.