Military buyers challenged to stay on top of the latest innovations in commercial space

Space Force Lieutenant General Michael Guetlein said commercial innovation today “exceeds the government’s demand signal.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. military buyers of space systems have for decades relied on a stable of aerospace and defense companies to develop technologies and launch them into orbit at the government’s request.

In the years that followed SpaceX interrupted the military launch market, the growth of the space economy fueled by private money has historically turned a government-driven approach to technological developments on its head.

Keeping abreast of commercial space activities has been a challenge for military procurement organizations, Lieutenant General Michael Guetlein, commander of the US Space Force’s Space Systems Command, said May 18.

We’re seeing more innovation coming out of the industry than we’ve seen since the push to the moon, a huge amount,” Guetlein said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We’re at the point today where commercial innovation outpaces the government demand signal, which traditionally hasn’t happened,” Guetlein said.

Ever since take the helm at the Los Angeles-based Space Systems Command last summer, Guetlein embarked on a number of efforts to bridge the gap between military buyers and new space companies.

One of the initiatives is to help startups and small businesses navigate the complex public procurement terrain. Gutlein. There are many business opportunities for companies, but they are not presented to them in a user-friendly way, he said. “With the acronyms, the names of offices, the different buckets out there, we are completely confusing the industry. They have no idea how to do business with the government.”

The Space Systems Command has appointed officials known as “sherpas” to assist startups and small businesses unfamiliar with defense procurement, he said. “They will be the ones pointing the path to a customer.”

The command has also established a commercial services office “to embrace as much of the commercial sector as possible,” Guetlein said. “When we got up Space Systems Command, we did it with a mantra that we’re ‘buy what we can and only build what we have to’ type of model.”

The commercial services office has a responsibility to “try to look across the industry to understand what’s out there in the realm of the possible,” it said. Their main task is to identify technologies that have been developed for commercial use and which can also meet a military need.

Space Systems Command will also increase the frequency of in-person “Industry Day” meetings with the private sector.

Last fall, the command organized a meeting focused on crosslink communication technologies to connect satellites in space.

On May 19 and 20, companies were invited to pitch technologies at an “ISR Tactical Industry Day”, focusing on space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in the commercial sector.

“It’s going to be a reverse industry day,” Guetlein said. Instead of companies showing up to hear about the government’s wish list, Space Force program managers will hear what companies have to offer. “That allows us to learn more about what’s out there,” he said.

There is a similar event next month focused on cislunar space domain awareness, and another event on commercial data analytics tools later in the year.

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