This is an artist's rendering of a cluster of cubesats and small satellites sent in orbit on a Russian Soyuz rocket by Exolaunch, the German launch services provider formerly known as ECM-Space. Credit: Exolaunch

WASHINGTON — A space industry group is calling on the Pentagon and Congress to increase investments in small satellite programs to shore up companies hit hard by the pandemic.

The crisis is “making our companies particularly vulnerable to bankruptcy or foreign takeover,” the SmallSat Alliance said in a white paper April 21.

“The COVID-19 crisis is creating new, profound market challenges,” the group said.

The SmallSat Alliance represents about 45 companies including satellite operators, manufacturers, component suppliers, launch providers, ground network operators and data analytics providers.

The group’s white paper calls on the Pentagon and the intelligence community to add hundreds of millions of dollars to satellite programs.

The investments would be to develop “hybrid space architectures” that combine commercial smallsats with traditional government satellites, Steve Nixon, president of the SmallSat alliance, told SpaceNews.

The Pentagon has been studying options to deploy hybrid architectures — as a way to make constellations less costly to build and more resilient to attacks — but has been slow to bring them to fruition. The SmallSat Alliance argues that the government should now step up those efforts.

Nixon said he has shared the alliance’s proposal with congressional committees and with members of the Space Acquisition Council, a senior level group led by the Department of the Air Force’s top acquisition official Will Roper.

“We sent our document today to Dr. Roper and all the other members of the Space Acquisition Council,” Nixon said.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting the commercial supplier, customer, and investor markets putting these future architecture visions at risk,” said the white paper. “To counter potential loss of a critical U.S. industry, the U.S. national security space community should accelerate efforts to engage the U.S. new space industry as a strong customer.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...