WASHINGTON — Department of the Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper said he fears some of the most innovative startups in the space industry could go out of business as private investors pull back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now is the time for the government to make a bold move and stabilize those markets,” Roper said April 16 during a video conference with reporters.

The Pentagon already has taken measures to soften the impact of COVID-19 on suppliers, Roper noted. But companies in the space and aerospace sectors that also do business with the Air Force are especially vulnerable because of their exposure to commercial markets that face falling demand, he said.

“As those market recede now is the time for bold action,” Roper said. “Commercial cash streams have dried up completely in some cases,” Roper added. “The Air Force and Congress are going to have to engage aggressively on aerospace.”

“Space is also vulnerable,” he said. “We do see a hesitancy and conservatism starting to enter the market because of COVID-19.” Sectors of the industry like low Earth orbit constellations and small launch are emerging markets and could face uncertain futures, Roper added. “Right now we see investors moving to a more conservative posture. They are waiting to see what the government is going to do.”

Specific actions will be discussed at the next meeting of the Space Acquisition Council as early as two weeks from now, said Roper. The council includes representatives from military and intelligence agencies that acquire space technologies.

Roper last week announced the council was planning an “emergency session” to consider the impact of COVID-19 on the industrial base.

One way to provide an immediate boost is to speed up contract awards, which also helps bring in private investment, said Roper. “We’ll look to accelerate awards when prudent.”

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...