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The proposed Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces has been a big political story. But it has huge business implications as well. Whether it’s the Space Force or the Air Force, who ultimately will run the military’s space programs is a question to which space and defense contractors — as well as their customers — would like a clear answer. But lawmakers are far from ready to endorse the new branch — so the outlook remains muddy at best.
In these times of transition and uncertainty, the national security space industry needs a prominent voice in Washington, says Steve Jacques, the acting executive director of a newly formed nonprofit, the National Security Space Association.
The group was officially established in August and is based in Arlington, Virginia. Last week it held its first major event as co-host of the CSIS national security space budget and policy forum where the keynote speaker was Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
WHY NSSA? Jacques, a longtime industry consultant, retired Air Force officer and former Pentagon official, says the idea of an association for national security space had been kicked around for several years. “There’s always been an appetite for this,” he tells SpaceNews. The increased focus on space after President Trump directed the establishment of a Space Force accelerated the process to get NSSA up and running. “All we are focused on is national security space,” Jacques says. “We are not a lobbying house.”
SPACE FORCE DEBATE NSSA is “very excited about the degree of attention that is being placed on this very important national security priority,” he adds. The association wants to help move the reorganization forward and supports the legislative process to create a Space Force. Jacques agrees with Shanahan’s take that the Space Force proposal going through Congress now presents a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”.
WHAT’S NEXT? Jacques is not ready to predict what Congress will do. “We may not have a perfect legislative solution by Oct. 1 but we feel very confident,” he says. “This is the first time we are starting to feel a sense of urgency.” NSSA is planning a congressional outreach campaign. “So few members know about what national security space does for our nation’s security. Part of our intention is to educate and inform all 535 members about what space brings to our economy and to our nation.”
INDUSTRY PLAYERS The association has enlisted corporate sponsors, which Jacques describes as a mix of traditional defense contractors, established space companies and up-and-coming commercial players. NSSA has a Board of Advisers that includes Lockheed Martin vice presidents Marc Berkowitz and Kay Sears; Joe Dodd, vice president of LinQuest; former National Reconnaissance Office Director Martin Faga; retired Air Force Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski; Mandy Vaughn, president of Vox Space and John Serafini, CEO of Hawkeye360.
POLICY AGENDA The association advocates for “effective governance of the U.S. national security space enterprise,” according to its policy white paper. It also wants DoD to lay down clear “lanes in the road” for developing and acquiring national security space systems. There are numerous organizations today that do that, which creates a lot of confusion, the paper states. “It is increasingly difficult for America’s national security space industry to determine which organizations are responsible for developing key technologies, systems and architectures.”