Public Perspectives

Jim Russo, SATCOM-II Program Manager, GSA

SATCOM-II program manager Jim Russo talks about what makes SATCOM-II fly in this interview with 1105 Government Information GroupCustom Media.

Q. 1105 Custom Media: In a nutshell, tell us about the value that SATCOM-II delivers.
A. Jim Russo
We are a solutions based program, so all of our contractors have the ability to provide end to end solutions. We have a very diverse and capable group of contractors; we provide the space segment; we’ve got integrators; we’ve got companies that are really based in engineering services, as their forte.


We’ve got a very large component of small businesses as well. Nine of our 25 are small businesses. We’ve positioned SATCOM-II as part of our integrated portfolio. The key tenets of the program: we are on e-Buy; we’ve got 39 agencies as users and looking for more; satellites are a green technology; we have dedicated contract teams that are married to the program and give the program continuity. I think those are the key features.


And GSA Schedules, SATCOM-II and Networx are all viable ways for agencies to acquire satellite solutions for their particular requirements.  We really do complement each other.


Q: For IT services, some agencies are developing their own contracts, such as DHS’s EAGLE, rather than using government-wide contracts. Is that happening for satellite services?
A: Actually we do see some of that, so that’s nothing that’s unique. But what we are finding is where agencies perhaps have their own vehicle right now, or they have put something in place temporarily because they weren’t quite sure what SATCOM-II was and how it could help them; they are now seeing where groups such as Armed Forces Radio and TV Systems, the Government Alliance for Training and Education and other customers have come to SATCOM –II; they’ve run a quick and efficient competition and found a good service at a good price with a good contractor.


They are giving us a look now to see if maybe they’ve overlooked us and perhaps for the next fiscal year, they are considering SATCOM-II. We’ve seen some of that and we’ve also seen some of those folks then turning back to us and looking at what we have, so they become more confident in the value of the program.


We have provided global bandwidth for intelligence networks. The Armed Forces Radio and TV System is providing a pretty neat service – digital TV direct to Sailors over with the broadcast services through our contract. Social Security has just come on board as well with an interactive distance learning application through us. And we’ve had numerous orders for emergency communications equipment. A number of our contractors have packaged kits that are specifically put in for disaster recovery situations, or emergency response. And a number of agencies have come to us looking to purchase those types of things.


Q: Are there any security issues? Is everything encrypted already?
A: That’s a good point. That’s been one of our concerns for a while, secure services. You can look at it in two ways. One is: is the data that is being transmitted over the satellite secure? And the answer to that depends on the generator, the originator and the receiver of the data. The majority of our services really depend on data transparency, that’s one of the requirements of our contract, where we require the satellite provider to basically do no harm to the data that flows over their circuits.


So the answer there is if the data that enters is encrypted, it will stay encrypted until it leaves the system. So from that standpoint we offer the same level of security that the commercial satellite industry offers anyone else.


Q: So if I’m an agency and I’m confident that the information that I’m transmitting is secure based on my own system requirements, then I can feel confident that when it gets to the receiver that it is still secure?
A: That’s correct. And the second point of it is the operations security of the satellite. How do you know that the management of the satellite is secure? How do you know that someone can’t hijack control of the satellite and do a denial of service for example? Turn the transponders on and off at will, etc.


All the commercial SATCOM providers have done their due diligence, put operations security in place and the DOD has done a whole analysis of this. They wouldn’t be using these satellites if they weren’t deemed to be operationally secure. So we are using and providing access to the same commercial satellites that DOD accesses through their own contracts. So from that standpoint, we are as operationally secure as they would be using the same providers.


Q: GSA is really a leader in the “Green Government” movement. Is SATCOM-II involved?
A: Yes.  Satellite communications really can be seen as a green technology.


Think of it intuitively and just think of it in simple terms: the satellite broadcast service. The satellite will broadcast in multiple beams if you have Direct TV or Dish Network; there are multiple channels, many of them are high definition channels; they are high bandwidth channels being beamed continuously to earth, even spot beams because all of the local broadcasters have their channels beamed into the local city, or whatever.


If you just stand back and look at the Washington DC region, and I’ll pick the top 12 terrestrial broadcasters and tally up how many megawatts it takes at any given point in time for them to broadcast their signal, the carbon dioxide that
those transmitters generate over a year is some finite number whereas the satellite is beaming the same content to the same users, arguably the same users, using solar power.


So just intuitively you can see that the use of the satellite to broadcast content communications creates a lot less carbon dioxide than, in fact none, as compared to terrestrial methods.


Q: So, if satellite is “Green” and it uses solar power and reduces carbon emissions, in your view do you see that in some point in time we are going to transition? And there are just going to be more satellites and satellite is just going to be the pervasive technology versus cell, wired, fiber? Do you see that?
A: That’s a market place battle that’s just going to play out. It will depend on the marketing of those services. Not everybody is in a position where they can install a satellite dish, especially in urban areas there are forces that may work against it, especially as more people move to condominiums over Metro stations. Their ability to put satellite dishes on their porches is not as great as people in suburban sprawl that have pieces of back yard where they can put a dish. I think there are a lot of factors that will govern who the winner of that battle is.


Q: Can you describe the difference between mobile and fixed satellite services? For the lay person, is it just simply one moves around and one is fixed, or is there something more to it?
A: You can look at it pretty straightforwardly from the perspective of the user. If the user is mobile and you can have the vision where somebody has a hand held or a back pack or something that mounts on the back of a vehicle, in a mobile unit that is traveling around an area that is not in a fixed location, that is what we consider the mobile user.


So you are thinking about satellite phone, you are thinking about portable cases where high capacity bandwidth data and voice capacity can be brought to suitcase packages with antennas that can mount to vehicles or to popup in a temporary location very quickly.


For fixed, if you can envision those teleports where you drive by and you see very large meter satellite dishes pointed at a fixed location in the sky, they are pointing at a geo synchronized satellite, they are bringing in massive amounts of bandwidth to and from, that would be the case where you would call it fixed. You would have a satellite terminal mounted permanently on the side of a building and that would be the definition of a fixed satellite station.


Q: At your April briefing, you told a story about balloon communications. Can you explain what took place?
A: I pulled that right out of the Wall Street Journal. I have the notation at the bottom of one of the slides. The point that I made with that set of slides was that satellite is well known in its niche, well known in its community, and well known especially in the DOD circle as to what it can provide, its benefits. But it’s so little known outside of that community that people will go to almost any lengths to reinvent the wheel. So here you have a company that probably could have purchased a satellite service for a very competitive cost at a mature technology, instead of resorting to something that is leading edge, let’s see if it works, what happens if we lose a balloon, if we lose the equipment, something that’s a little off the wall, instead of doing a satellite solution People will try anything but they don’t know that there’s a satellite solution. So that was really the point of that set of slides.


Q: Do you have any personal experiences where satellite communications have been used in an emergency situation?
A: I’ve used this story before actually real life experience, where we did have a power outage and a cable outage in our neighborhood a couple of years back where there was a snow/wind storm,  knocked over some trees that took out both the cable and the power service, so with the help of a generator at my house I was able to bring the house back on line, and since I have both satellite internet service and satellite television, it was just like I was living in a normal day. I could get, I could watch television, I could access the internet. I could do my work email, my home email, I didn’t have to worry about the fact that it was going to take five or six days for all those wires to be fixed. And where my neighbors up the road to get their internet back and their television back, I had it already.