Hyten: Military Will Follow, Not Lead, On Smallsat Systems

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LOGAN, Utah — The head of Air Force Space Command said Aug. 10 that while he sees clear benefits to small satellite systems, he expects the military to follow the lead of commercial developments.

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, in his keynote presentation at the Conference on Small Satellites at Utah State University, said that while he was interested in the potential of constellations of small satellites to provide new capabilities, as well as resilience against attack, the military would move relatively slowly to adopt those systems compared to industry.

“I guarantee you that the nature of the military is that we will walk into that slowly,” he said. “But when the commercial sector starts investing money and starts proving capabilities, just like in the launch business, we’re going to walk into that with eyes wide open and figure out how to take advantage of those capabilities.”

That approach, he said, was similar to how the Air Force has taken into account changes in the launch market with the private-sector development of new launch vehicles, most notably by SpaceX. “There were entrepreneurs out there pushing the envelope to go in a new way,” he said of the launch industry. “You have amazing investment coming into that world. The United States Air Force, at some point, looked at that and said, ‘We’re idiots if we don’t reach out and take advantage of that.’”

Hyten also said that the Air Force’s adoption of small satellite systems is hindered by its own bureaucracy. He noted that last year the Air Force looked at the requirements for a next-generation weather satellite and determined that a small satellite could meet them, and handed the task over to the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office.

“We haven’t started yet because we’re still going through the approval process of getting started,” he said. “If we’re going to have an Operationally Responsive Space Office that is actually operationally responsive, when we give them a task we have to figure out a way to get them started. We can’t continue to analyze and study.”