The Space Force may be less than a month old, but it’s already scheduled its first pitch day, following in the footsteps of a new Air Force acquisition setup intended to find innovative solutions from small, nontraditional companies.
Modeled on the popular network show “Shark Tank,” the Air Force’s pitch days see commercial vendors present proposals for technologies or procedures to Air Force personnel, who are authorized to award Small Business Innovation Research contracts on the spot. The biggest attraction of the event is the possibility of forgoing the usual lengthy Department of Defense contracting period. For example, at the first pitch day held March 2019, the Air Force boasted that they were able to award one contract within three minutes of the business’ presentation.
“We have to do this across the country, across all places that do Air Force acquisition,” said Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, following the initial event. “Now that we’ve wrung all the lessons out of the process, we’re ready to box it up as a tool that can be executed by the work force out in the field.”
The Air Force has held a number of pitch days since then, including one dedicated to space in November, but the upcoming March 4 pitch day will be the first space-focused pitch day since Air Force Space Command was officially re-branded as Space Force, a separate service within the Department of the Air Force.
The Space Force pitch day was set up to find cutting edge solutions to a range of needs for the 45th Space Wing, whose mission is to assure U.S. access to space, primarily through launch. The Space Force has specified 20 challenges to be solved by commercial vendors, divided broadly between space operations support and installation support. The Air Force wants solutions to include areas such as collecting weather data from multiple sources and integrating it into one display or monitor, artificial intelligence that can identify abnormalities such as a loss of power at the base, and a way to deliver lightning warnings to personnel based on their GPS location. The full wish list can be viewed on the federal government’s contracting website.
The pitch day materials also noted that businesses do not need to submit new technologies, they just need to be new to the Space Force. Additionally, the new branch is open to considering innovative technology proposals that don’t necessarily fit into the problem sets outlined by the service.
Submissions are due Feb. 5. Once Space Force personnel have reviewed the proposals, they will invite select vendors to pitch their ideas at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida March 4.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.