U.S. military seeks lasting relationship with commercial space industry

Aerospace Corp. created a Commercial Space Futures organization to serve as a bridge between government and the private sector

WASHINGTON – The US military wants to buy more products and services from commercial space companies. However, this is easier said than done, as the Pentagon is still trying to find a way to work with the new space sector and attract suppliers who have not traditionally contracted with the government, have officials said Dec. 14 at a TechCrunch conference on the space industry.

“The pace of innovation on the business and industrial side is such that to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars we need to find better ways to leverage business innovation,” said Lt. Col. Tim Trimailo, of the US Space Force. Command of space systems.

“You see these little satellites; smaller, more efficient components, supercomputers, all the technology that comes out of the industry, ”he said. The US military must seize this innovation as soon as possible, added Trimailo. “The US government is not the only government in the world that sees the explosion of innovation that is possible.”

Trimailo runs a Space Force program known as CASINO – short for Commercially Augmented Space Internetwork Operations – which explores ways to introduce commercial technology into military space systems.

For decades, the military has bought satellites made by defense contractors to bespoke specifications, but is now rethinking that approach.

At Space Systems Command, Trimailo said: “We are focused on the laser threat and we recognize that we have to sort of shift our mindset towards a kind of ‘buy before you build’ construction.”

“Traditionally, we have augmented tailor-made custom solutions with commercial capability when we needed it,” he said. “We’re trying to turn that around a bit for some missions, where we take a look at the business landscape that exists and see how well we can meet the requirements in the first place.”

“Future of commercial space”

Steve Isakowitz, president and CEO of Aerospace Corp., said the military wants to buy commercial products but needs better ways to communicate its needs to the growing ecosystem of space startups and small businesses.

“The government is very interested in business opportunities. But from an industry perspective, it’s difficult to determine which door to go through and how to make that contact, ”Isakowitz said.

Aerospace, a federally funded research and development company that advises U.S. government agencies have created an organization within the company’s initiative called Commercial Space Futures to serve as a bridge between the government and new commercial entrants.

This will help overcome the “major hurdles” that currently prevent the government from accessing the commercial industry, he said.

As a non-profit organization, Aerospace will function as a gatekeeper on behalf of the government. Commercial Space Futures consists of “ensuring that these entities [that are offering technologies to the government] will actually succeed, ”Isakowitz said.

Aerospace will investigate, for example, a company’s finances, business plans and technologies.

Some areas of concern are the origins of a company’s supply chain, cybersecurity capabilities, and securing foreign investment, Isakowitz said.

Unlike the industry side, “we want to build trust” in government as a customer, he said.

Aerospace would help facilitate business access to prototype product facilities, he said. “So we hope that through our Commercial Space Futures, we can directly address these things, work with our government partners to make sure the industry has the best chance” of winning new business.

Startups need to build ties with government

Jordan Noone, space industry entrepreneur and co-founder of Embedded Ventures, said he advises startups to pursue “early engagement with government” to learn the intricacies of doing business with agencies and also to position their businesses for future opportunities. “It’s about building relationships,” he said.

Embedded Ventures supports dual-use technology companies working in defense and commerce. The venture capital firm recently signed a cooperative agreement with the US Space Force to provide insight into venture capital investment practices and discuss ways for the government to better take advantage of industry-funded technologies. private.

“We are working in a very difficult industry, a very regulated industry,” Noone said. “Government opportunities are very difficult to navigate. And that can be something that can almost be a negative signal for venture capitalists who are not interested in defense. “

Likewise, space startups sometimes struggle to tell their stories to potential investors and clients, he said. “They make it so complex that they can’t figure out what the business is doing, and that can be really confusing.”

Lt. Col. Walter “Rock” McMillan heads a new Space Force organization called SpaceWERX that was created to work with the emerging space industry.

McMillan said the military will need to adjust its procurement methods to keep up with fast-paced business innovation.

“In government, we’ve always been used to just identifying our requirements, highlighting them and expecting industry to meet those requirements,” McMillan said.

“With the pace of innovation, with the pace of new developments especially in the startup community, this approach of simply publishing requirements and waiting for an immediate response is no longer the best approach,” a- he added.

McMillan said the agreement with Embedded Ventures aims to create a “framework for having a two-way dialogue.” It means “signaling the things we want to achieve and having a dialogue with the wider community so that they understand where we want to lead the space architectures”.

SpaceWERX uses Small Business Innovation Research funds for projects aimed at attracting space startups. However, SBIR contracts are small in size and generally do not turn into long term programs that generate stable income. McMillan said the companies with a better chance of winning long-term defense deals are those using dual-use technologies that already serve a commercial market and are not entirely dependent on government funding.

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