For decades, U.S. military space buyers have depended on a core of aerospace and defense corporations to create technologies and deploy them into orbit at the government’s request. Since SpaceX upset the military launch industry, the expansion of the space economy, fuelled by private capital, has upended what had previously been a government-driven strategy for technological advancements.
Military procurement agencies have found it difficult to keep up with commercial space activity, according to Lieutenant General Michael Guetlein, who is the commander of the Space Systems Command of the United States Space Force. Guetlein remarked at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, “We’re seeing more innovation coming out of industry than we’ve seen since the push to the moon, an amazing lot.”
“We’ve arrived at a stage where commercial innovation is exceeding government need, which hasn’t happened in the past,” Guetlein said. Guetlein has begun a variety of measures to bridge the gap between military customers and new space entrepreneurs since taking over the Space Systems Command, based in Los Angeles, last summer.
One project aims to assist small firms and startups in navigating the difficult government procurement landscape. He believes that there are several business options available to companies, although they are not presented in a user-friendly manner. “With all of the acronyms, office names, and different categories out there, we absolutely confuse industry; they have no notion how to conduct business with the government.”
According to him, the Space Systems Command (SSC) has designated “sherpas” to assist startups and small firms inexperienced with defense acquisition. “They’ll show a consumer the way.” Guetlein added that the command has established a commercial services office “to integrate as much of the commercial business as possible. We set up Space Systems Command with the idea of buying what we can and building only what we need.”
“Trying to look throughout the industry to grasp what’s in the realm of possibility,” stated the commercial services office. Their main objective is to find commercially established technologies that can also be used to meet military requirements.
Face-to-face “industry day” interactions with the business sector will also become more frequent at Space Systems Command. The command sponsored a meeting last fall to discuss crosslink communications systems for connecting satellites in space.
Companies were asked to pitch innovations at a “tactical ISR industry day” on May 19 and 20, which focused on commercial space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
“It’ll be an industrial day in reverse,” Guetlein said. Rather than hearing about the government’s needs, Space Force program managers are going to hear about what firms have to offer. “It gives us a better understanding of what’s out there,” he explained.