National security space conference to propose plan to boost industrial base

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A group with more than 150 government and industry officials will recommend greater investments in space technology and education.

WASHINGTON — A virtual conference held last week with more than 150 government and industry officials will issue a report next month recommending actions to shore up the U.S. space industrial base.

The four-day “State of the Space Industrial Base 2020” program was led by the Defense Innovation Unit, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Space Force. The nonprofit advocacy group NewSpace New Mexico organized the conference.

Officials discussed the “near-term challenges of COVID-19 and critical actions required to sustain the United States’ long-term economic and military leadership in space,” said a May 11 news release.

U.S. government access to space technologies developed by the private sector has been an issue of concern for DIU and AFRL which last year co-published a report on challenges facing the U.S. space industrial base. The financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic that has hit the entire economy, officials warn, could put companies in the space industry out of business or make them targets of foreign buyers.

The group that participated in the May 4-7 conference workshop included officials from DIU, AFRL, the U.S. Space Force, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Space Council, NASA, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, academia and the private sector. They plan to issue a report in June recommending “whole-of-government policies and actions” to stimulate public and private investments in the space sector, and a greater focus on STEM education to develop future talent. Conference organizers said they hope to use the report to influence next year’s budget proposals.

Impact on space program ‘too early to tell’

Scott Pace, deputy assistant to President Trump and executive secretary of the National Space Council, said last week it’s “a little too early to tell” how the pandemic has impacted NASA and DoD space programs.

“I think the main concern is not so much with the budget right now but it’s really with getting back to work,” Pace said May 6 on a podcast hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“The president’s efforts to reopen the economy and get back to work as soon and as safely as we can are important for maintaining programs on schedule, and of course when you maintain schedule you also control costs,” said Pace. “And that’s probably the most immediate thing that we’re working on.”

Pace said NASA and DoD are helping commercial space companies “have access to resources they need to keep paying their employees, maintain them on the payroll and maintain their capabilities.”

The space industry, Pace said, “is a very complex and multi-layered thing. The problems of major primes are very different than those of small equity based startups. So, we’ve been paying, I think, a little bit more attention to these smaller innovative companies who sometimes get missed,” he added. “We’ve been working with DoD, NASA and the intelligence community to make sure some of these folks don’t slip between the cracks.”

By and large, said Pace, “the space industry is, I think, weathering things well, in part because of the strong support from NASA and DoD.”