WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force has ramped up use of its Space Enterprise Consortium, pushing out $1 billion in contracts for prototyping efforts in its first year under new management.

That marks a significant increase. From 2017 through about the end of 2020, the consortium issued a total of just $856 million in contracts. For context, the Space Force requested $17.4 billion for the entire service for fiscal 2022.

Initially established in 2017, the Space Enterprise Consortium was set up as an Other Transaction Authority, a contracting tool that enables faster contracting, connects the government with nontraditional vendors and speeds up system development with rapid prototyping. OTAs have been used to develop new ground systems, a Link 16-enabled space vehicle and more.

The SpEC launched with a $100 million ceiling, but early success convinced the Space Force to revamp the OTA. So just two years after it was created, the Space Force announced its plans to expand the effort as Space Enterprise Consortium Reloaded. The ceiling was raised to $12 billion over 10 years, and the Space Force hired National Security Technology Accelerator, known as NSTXL, as the new portfolio manager.

“To see where we’ve gone, starting off with just [a] $100 million OTA ceiling and just a couple dozen small businesses and traditionals — last count we were just shy of 600 companies that are a part of the Space Enterprise Consortium,” Program Executive Officer for Space Enterprise Col. Timothy Sejba said during the annual Defense News Conference Sept. 8. “This year alone, we’re on track to award almost a billion dollars of prototype proposals just via SpEC, and to me that just gives you an idea of how successful that is and has been for us.”

That marks significant growth just this year, with the Space and Missile Systems Center reporting in December 2020 that the consortium had 441 members. Around 80 percent of the members are nontraditionals, he added, with almost 60 percent of the awards going to those companies. Just a few years ago, the Space Force didn’t have access or open lines to those companies at all, said Sejba.

The consortium supports more than just Space Systems Command. It’s worked with the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and more, said Sejba.

“It’s a foundational tool for how we are rapidly being able to put requests for prototype proposals out to industry and awarding them almost 40 percent faster than we could have through some of our traditional FAR-based contracts,” he added.

But more than just moving contracts faster, Sejba sees the SpEC opening up dialogue between the Space Force and industry. In October, the consortium will hold its annual meeting, where senior leaders will recap the proposals put out in the last year and review how they’ve been executed. It also provides a key opportunity for requirements owners to present their needs to industry and get together in conference rooms for one-on-one face time with the heads of different companies.

Bringing nontraditional space companies into the Department of Defense has been a focus for the Space Force. In addition to the Space Enterprise Consortium, the service has held Space Pitch Days — events where companies can pitch their technologies and solutions directly to Space Force officials and win contracts on the spot. During the pitch days this summer, the Space Force was able to issue $32 million in contracts to about 19 different small businesses, said Sejba.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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