Credit: AGI

The U.S. Air Force has taken a lot of heat over the years for being slow to take full advantage of commercial space capabilities and deservedly so, but recent weeks have brought indications that this is changing.

The latest evidence is the service’s recently announced contract with orbit-modeling software provider AGI for a one-year subscription to orbital data from the company’s Commercial Space Operations Center, or ComSpOC. The Pentagon announced the $8.4 million contract without fanfare Sept. 29. The company, which has long pushed the Air Force to be more aggressive in embracing commercial products and capabilities, has yet to make an announcement of its own.

The speculation in industry is that the contract is related to the newly established Joint Interagency Coalition Space Operations Center, a collaboration of U.S. defense and intelligence agencies to practice space war fighting scenarios, but AGI will not confirm this.

Regardless, it is refreshing to see the Air Force embrace this innovative capability, created over the past two years to provide space situational awareness data on a commercial basis. As everyone knows, the Air Force operates a vast network of highly capable space surveillance assets that feed data into its Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC). Traditionally, the service has displayed a reluctance to adopt outside capabilities that could be seen as competing with its own.

The ComSpOC of course could never replace the JSpOC, and that was never a realistic scenario. But what the ComSpOC can and does offer is a complementary capability that can fill some of the gaps in the Air Force’s space surveillance data sets.

That the Air Force is able to recognize this and provide what appears to be a substantial financial boost to the venture — the contract is only the second announced deal for ComSpOC services and the first with a government customer — is almost as positive a development for the service as it is for AGI.