Jim Schwenke, vice president of business development at SpaceLink, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz for the publication’s latest Executive Spotlight interview to discuss how his experiences across the federal landscape led him to SpaceLink in April 2021.
In addition, Schwenke also discussed the benefits of SpaceLink’s MEO and hybrid architecture capabilities for its customers as well as the qualities that make the company’s data relay system unique and its expansion into the Fairfax, Virginia area with its new headquarters.
“At SpaceLink, everyone listens to everyone’s perspectives. I’m pleased that I can help guide the team that has so much experience in designing commercial systems to better optimize the SpaceLink network to support the needs and demands of military and government users. We are looking for the sweet spot where we can support both government and commercial clients.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Jim Schwenke below:
ExecutiveBiz: With your extensive career with Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Leidos, BAE Systems and joining SpaceLink in April 2021, what can you tell us about your experiences watching space technology turn into one of the most significant areas for our world’s future? Why did you want to join SpaceLink to be a part of this sector?
“Prior to my commercial involvement with those companies, I spent 21 years in the U.S. Air Force and was a Lt. Colonel in the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (OSD) for International Security Policy. I was acting Director of Space Policy when I retired from the Air Force to help industry better meet DoD and Intelligence Community needs.
That military background served me well and I spent much of that time working on classified satellite systems. It’s been interesting to see how the technologies that were highly classified back then are now becoming commonly available in the commercial sector. Today’s technology has enabled smaller satellites to execute many missions that were previously limited to larger and mostly classified systems.
In conjunction with the small satellite trend, we have seen important advances in laser communications. The Space Development Agency, led by Dr. Derek Tournear, is helping to drive down the cost of satellites and optical communications by establishing standards for interoperability with bulk orders of highly capable small satellites. This inspired SpaceLink to design laser communications into our intersatellite links to provide a secure, resilient, high data rate commercial relay service to our customers in space, air, and on the ground.
Transitioning to SpaceLink from a larger company was a great transition for me. The large companies that I’ve worked with have wonderful talent, but they also have a bit of bureaucracy. Joining SpaceLink is like having an extended family, all working together to accomplish a mission of deploying a constellation of four relay satellites in MEO by 2024.
When I first heard about SpaceLink I had to pause and think about it because, while I’ve worked in multiple spacecraft domains, communications was not previously one of them. However, when I thought about all the diverse missions and customers SpaceLink could support, I was hooked.
I’m excited about the mission and how it contributes to our national security, as well as the management team, and all the smart, highly motivated colleagues I work with. At SpaceLink there is a concentrated focus on the mission, I think sometimes that can get lost at bigger companies.
At SpaceLink, everyone listens to everyone’s perspectives. I’m pleased that I can help guide the team that has so much experience in designing commercial systems to better optimize the SpaceLink network to support the needs and demands of military and government users. We are looking for the sweet spot where we can support both government and commercial clients.”
ExecutiveBiz: You mentioned that SpaceLink supports a hybrid architecture of both government and commercial users. SpaceLink plans an initial operational capability with four MEO satellites in 2024.
Can you explain the benefits of this approach and the impact that satellite constellations are having on the federal sector?
“Our constellation in MEO will support both government and commercial users through connectivity to LEO and other orbits. Our optical links are designed to augment the U.S. national security architecture activities with secure, continuous, high bandwidth communications. The benefits of optical links include lower mass, smaller footprint, better security, and far more capacity than you would get with RF.
The hybrid architecture is not just a combination of commercial and government satellites, but SpaceLink also brings a diversity of orbits since we operate from MEO. Our architecture is designed so that at least one of the SpaceLink relay satellites always has a direct line of sight to any spacecraft in LEO. The relay constellation also has direct line of sight to our dedicated Earth stations, which means we can carry data from anywhere in the world and bring it down on U.S. soil. SpaceLink provides great support for our military and our warfighters for their missions.
With our gateway capabilities, we provide a protected chain of custody for all types of data while providing a real time data downlink without touching foreign infrastructure. Our intersatellite links will be interoperable with the SDA transport layer. SpaceLink gets information to the technical edge of combat at the speed of relevance, which is critical to the operational users when seconds matter.”
ExecutiveBiz: What makes your data relay system unique? How will it have an impact on military, intelligence and civil aerospace applications for your customers and improve your government market strategy in these areas?
“The SpaceLink relay system delivers data in seconds, not hours or days. For remote sensing satellites that collect large amounts of data, real-time connectivity to the end user is essential. That is what the SpaceLink relay system does. A lot of the commercial vendors are trying to get their data to the ground within 20 minutes. We will be able to transfer data essentially instantaneously.”
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about SpaceLink’s expansion into Northern Virginia to advance space commerce, exploration and security as well as environmental awareness? What makes Fairfax a “natural choice?”
“Fairfax County is a natural choice for SpaceLink because of its proximity to so many of our customers, partners, and advisors. As an innovative space company, we have the opportunity to draw from the rich pool of talented technology and business professionals who are drawn to the region for its dynamic environment. Northern Virginia is an important hub for the aerospace and defense industry, which makes it a great fit for SpaceLink’s corporate headquarters.”