You’re reading the SN Military.Space newsletter we publish Tuesdays. If you would like to get our news and insights for military space professionals before everyone else, sign up here for your free subscription.

Vice President Mike Pence delivers keynote at 34th Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell for SpaceNews.
Vice President Mike Pence delivers keynote at 34th Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell for SpaceNews.

HOT TOPIC: ‘New space’ takes center stage at 34th Space Symposium. Kitay talks space policy. Orbital ATK’s new rocket name revealed

The 34th Space Symposium is under way in Colorado Springs. Monday’s big headliner, Vice President Pence, didn’t make a lot of news but organizers and attendees said his presence alone was a huge boost to the space community. Over the next couple of days, DoD and military VIPs are expected to announce new initiatives on space as a domain of war and efforts to “go fast” in space procurement programs.

BIZ CLIMATE: In off-the-record conversations on the first day of the symposium, industry executives said they were enthused by the business environment, especially in ‘new space’ areas like small launch vehicles and small satellites. “We have been trying to sell small space for years,” one executive commented. But not until recently have DoD and the intelligence community been “ready to move out.” There is a sense of urgency about U.S. access to use of space being threatened. Said another executive: “The mood has changed.”

Entrepreneurs see opportunities but also challenges. The military needs resilient satellite constellations and they expect the industry to deliver on promises of responsive space launch and cheap but capable satellites.


EXCLUSIVE: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Stephen Kitay tells SpaceNews that “whole-of-government policies and strategies” are required in space. Top priorities include “protecting and advancing our vital interests in space to considering the future of space traffic management.” The Trump administration “recognizes the importance of space to our country,” he said. “Space is now a warfighting domain. We must be prepared to address this challenge.” The United States needs “unfettered access to, and freedom to operate in space, in order to advance America’s security, economic prosperity, and scientific knowledge.”

DoD’s top space priority? Improve the resilience of space assets. “When we talk about resilience, we’re talking about the ability of an architecture to support the functions necessary for mission success with a higher probability, shorter periods of reduced capability, and across a wider range of scenarios, conditions, and threats, in spite of hostile actions or adverse conditions.”

Scott Pace, the executive secretary of the National Space Council, said last week that the Trump administration does not believe war in outer space is inevitable. But a lack of trust in what Russia and China are doing in space means the United States has to “work hard every day” to deter future aggression.”

OmegA, the rocket formerly known as Next Generation Launch system, is Orbital ATK's answer to intermediate and heavy-lift launchers in the works at ULA, SpaceX and Blue Origin. Credit: Orbital ATK
OmegA, the rocket formerly known as Next Generation Launch system, is Orbital ATK’s answer to intermediate and heavy-lift launchers in the works at ULA, SpaceX and Blue Origin. Credit: Orbital ATK
OmegA, the rocket formerly known as Next Generation Launch system, is Orbital ATK’s answer to intermediate and heavy-lift launchers in the works at ULA, SpaceX and Blue Origin. Credit: Orbital ATK

ORBITAL ATK INTRODUCES OMEGA. Orbital ATK on Monday revealed new details about the rocket it has been developing over the last three years. The rocket formerly known as the Next Generation Launch system now has a name, OmegA (capital O for Orbital, capital A for ATK). The company picked Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10C engine to power the upper stage. At news conference at the Space Symposium, executives called OmegA one of the company’s largest strategic investments. A $250 million cost-sharing partnership with the Air Force has funded its development to date. Orbital ATK is stressing OmegA’s flight heritage and singular purpose as it competes for one of perhaps three Launch Service Agreement awards the Air Force intends to make this summer.

CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL SPACE ALLIANCES. Space policy experts make the case for more international alliances in space. Despite the huge benefits that come from sharing resources, intelligence and know-how, there are still barriers. The study by The Aerospace Corp. details the history of the U.S.-Canadian space partnership and offers it as an example of how the United States can gain from closer collaboration with allies. “As the U.S. seeks to expand these relationships, it may be useful to reflect upon current examples, with an eye toward informing future efforts and determining how to avoid the pitfalls that can jeopardize even the most successful collaborations.”

NEW POLITICAL REALITY FOR DOD: Since last year’s Space Symposium, a lot has changed in military space. Congress passed a law that demanded changes in the Air Force and set in motion a possible reorganization of the military. An independent review is now underway to look at how the military’s space missions might be spun off into a separate service. How will things look a year from now? Stay tuned.

MATTIS WEIGHS IN ON SPACE CORPS. Rep. Mike Rogers put Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the spot last week at a Capitol Hill hearing. Highlights of the exchange:

ROGERS: As you also know, this committee and this house called for the establishment of the Space Corps. The president announced his support for a Space Force. Do you have a viable alternative to the Space Force the president’s called for and that this committee has called for?

MATTIS: We have to define this problem. … If a Space Force is the right thing to do, I have no reservations about it. But I don’t want to stand up in DoD, which is an enormous bureaucracy and has many sub-bureaucracies, another bureaucracy as if that will be the solution.

FORMER SECAF: SPACE CORPS A BAD IDEA. Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force during the Obama administration, insists a Space Corps is a solution in search of a problem. “Any organizational construct can work. The question is do you want to through the pain? It would be years of reorganization drama. What exactly is the problem you’re trying to solve?” she said in a CNAS podcast. “When I look at the totality, I conclude that no, it’s not the time to separate out a Space Corps. It’s not going to solve problems. If the problem is that acquisition is too slow, organizational change is not necessarily the answer. We have to speed up authorities.”


OCX NOT YET OUT OF THE WOODS Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, is closely watching the next-generation operational control system for GPS satellites, known as OCX. She characterized OCX as the poster child for military programs where “both the department and industry are behind the curve in terms of modernization of software practices.”

DEFENSE SHOULD MOVE FAST LIKE SPACEX A recent report from the Defense Science Board held up SpaceX as an example of a company that uses agile software development and still meets Air Force requirements for “mission critical” space launches. “SpaceX appears to be an ‘existence proof’ that modern DevOps commercial practices can be used effectively for rapidly changing systems that are mission critical for national security, in this case the Air Force space launch.”

WHAT DO YOU MEAN SPACE IS CONTESTED? Outside national security circles, it is hard to grasp why space is “contested” or why the United States would have to worry about security threats in space. “Trying to explain this to the public has been difficult,” said Eric Fanning, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. “Those of us that have worked in government and have been briefed know what the threats are,” said Fanning. But access to information outside government is limited, he said. AIA funded a study that was released last week, “Space Threat Assessment 2018” that explains things in layman’s terms.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Email Format

View previous campaigns.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...