This version corrects the spelling of the first name of SDA Director Derek Tournear.
WASHINGTON — In year two, the U.S. Space Force wants to build deeper connections with commercial industry, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond said Thursday.
“If you look at historically what has been commercially viable in space, it was commercial launch and large communications satellites,” said Raymond. But now, “almost every mission that we do in space has a commercially viable path.”
Raymond made his remarks during a talk with astrophysicist and media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson for the Air Force Association virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium.
The general credited that change with the lower cost of putting payloads in orbit and the increased capabilities of small satellites to make them more “operationally relevant.” The former has been driven by the significant growth of the small launch market in recent years, with new providers entering the market and competing for government and commercial contracts.
Earlier this month, the director of the Space Development Agency — which by law is set to join the Space Force in 2022 — similarly credited commercial developments with enabling the mega-constellation it is building.
“It’s not anything the government has done. It’s really what’s been driven by commercial enterprises, commercial innovation and commercial industry pushing the price down, [not] only in the cost of these satellites, but the cost of launches has dropped significantly as well,” said SDA Director Derek Tournear.
Prior to the establishment of the Space Force, the U.S. Air Force took efforts to enable more contributions from smaller, nontraditional vendors. For instance, the Space Enterprise Consortium, established in 2017, works to streamline contracts through other transaction authorities directed at rapid prototyping projects.
Other transaction authorities allow “us to get on contract much faster than traditional approaches,” Space and Missile Systems Center head Lt. Gen. John Thompson said in November. “In addition, the vehicle really lowers the bar for nontraditional contractors to become part of national security space efforts, makes it easier for them to get in the door. In fact, 350 of those 430 members of the consortium are really nontraditional contractors or academic organizations.”
The Space Force has since expanded that consortium with a new contract that will see it dole out up to $12 billion in awards over the next 10 years.
The Space Force has also taken over the Air Force’s Space Pitch Day concept, which invites companies to present their ideas and technologies in a “Shark Tank”-inspired competition. Acquisition officers are authorized to hand out contracts on the spot.
Commercial providers have opened up whole new mission areas for the military in recent years. For instance, the U.S. Army has utilized commercial satellite imagery providers to build a new beyond-line-of-sight targeting capability, while the Air Force and the Army are looking into incorporating SpaceX’s Starlink network into their weapon systems.
The Space Force wants to harness those types of commercial developments for its missions, said Raymond.
“We want to build a very fused connection with commercial industry. We’re a small service and we think we can do that,” he said. “The explosion of commercial space … provides us a great opportunity.”
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.