LeoLabs of Menlo Park, California, uses this phased array radar near Fairbanks, Alaska, and another in Midland, Texas, to track spacecraft and debris. The mapping startup plans to build a third radar in New Zealand as part of its ongoing quest to become the Google Maps of low Earth orbit. Credit: Craig Heinselman

SAN FRANCISCO – The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is issuing letters to help contractors and their subcontractors inform local authorities their work is essential to national security and should continue in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Space technology is one of five focus areas for DIU, an organization designed to give the U.S. military rapid access to innovative commercial technology. DIU does not announce contract awards, but has funded startups and established companies working on launch vehicles, Earth observation, space situational awareness and satellite communications.

Firms working under DIU contracts have received letters stating the DIU Director has determined their work in support of national security is part of the essential critical workforce as defined by the Defense Department. “As such, and in keeping with the President’s guidance, these individuals have a ‘special responsibility’ to maintain their normal work schedule,” according to the DIU letter.

The Department of Homeland Security and Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment issued memoranda in March defining personnel working for Defense Department contractors and subcontractors as part of the nation’s essential critical infrastructure workforce.

The DIU letter is not intended “to overcome the health and safety provisions of state and local jurisdictions, but to ensure continued access to services and production of supplies essential to the common defense of the United States,” according to the letter. At the same time, the DIU contractors “must appropriately incorporate all practicable public safety measures to stop or slow the spread” of the novel coronavirus, “while ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure and functions.”

The letters also advise contractors to contact their DIU project managers “for additional information or in the case of questions from local authorities.”

On its website, DIU says the agency is continuing to “monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials around the country.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...