Bernard F. Collins II, senior advisor for the Director of Science and Technology in the Acquisition, Technology and Facilities Directorate for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, recently spoke with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) about his work evaluating the space industrial base and improving satellite acquisition through the use of standardization.
Mr. Collins has extensive experience in the acquisition, development, and operation of satellites and is currently developing and coordinating an innovative approach to acquiring satellites through industry consensus standards. He is also architecting and leading an overarching intelligence community science and technology investment process. Mr. Collins was manager of two successful satellite programs, mission director for satellite operations, and lead for a first of a kind payload development. Several of the research and technology projects he led were incorporated in major government or commercial satellite programs.
The following is part one of a three part interview.
ANSI: Thank you for taking the time to speak with ANSI, Mr. Collins.
Bernard Collins (BC): Thank you for the opportunity to answer some questions about interoperability standards. Industries which standardize often see increased growth. My interest in interoperability standards is reflected in the Space Universal Modular Architecture (SUMO) concept. SUMO is an architecture of standards which will strengthen the space industrial base and reduce the cost of satellite-based missions. SUMO will accomplish these objectives through interoperability standards for the satellite hardware and software components. SUMO intends to leverage on-going investments in the U.S. government, industry, and the European Space Agency (ESA). SUMO will be encouraged by a government Integrated Transition Team (ITT) and developed and implemented by an industry Consortium for Space Industry Standards (CSIS). The ITT members are from the Department of Defense (DoD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO); the CSIS includes members from the several space integrator and supplier companies.
ANSI: Mr. Collins, in your public speaking and published articles, you have displayed a keen understanding of the power of standards - in particular, interoperability standards - to drive innovation and strengthen U.S. industry. Why are interoperability standards so important?
BC: Interoperability standards will strengthen the space industrial base; especially of the second and third tier. Based on data collected by the Department of Commerce's 2013 U.S. Space Industry Deep Dive and other similar studies, those are the tiers of the sector which have the tightest financials, are more likely to be getting out of the business or are at risk of being dispositioned. Interoperability standards at the supplier level will enable them to increase production rates, improve margins, and enhance quality. They will also be able to commit resources to value added product improvements with long term benefits instead of application specific variants that don't build viability.
ANSI: Can you discuss a few examples of specific technologies that have benefitted from the use of standards, and how?
BC: The history of the single gauge cross-continental railroad is illustrative of the role we believe the government ought to take. As the story goes, in the 19th century, the US government "stepped-in" to the railroad industry and reasoned that one gauge must be used and then "stepped-back" and let the industry determine the single gauge. A single gauge is substantially more efficient than multiple gauges; Australia currently has three gauges and therefore the trains of one company have to stop at a transfer point to transfer cross-continental cargo to another train company. For SUMO, the government ITT intends to step-in to encourage the consortium and establish a collaborative environment and then step-back and let industry develop the standards through consensus.
Another example we often refer to is the cell phone industry's development and use of the mini-USB port for interfacing to and charging cell phones. This example is interesting because, though the standard was regionally inspired, it had a global impact. The global cell phone industry largely supported the resulting voluntary interface standard and, as it turns out, we in the U.S. benefitted. SAVOIR (Space Avionics Open Interface Architecture) is the European effort, much like SUMO in the U.S., to develop interoperability standards for satellite components. Just as the mini-USB interface did, it is conceivable that the SAVOIR standard could become global. We had already been interacting with ESA through the auspices of the Consultative Committee on Space Data Standards (a committee made of up space agencies from around the world) and we expanded the discussion to include more of the SUMO constituents. Subsequently we agreed to jointly develop a draft reference architecture with which to support further collaboration.
ANSI: Your work and insight is fascinating and educational. ANSI looks forward to continuing our discussion in part two of our interview.