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HOT TOPICS: U.S. Space Guard • DoD steps up AI push amid Google firestorm • DARPA lays groundwork for future military LEO constellation

SPACE CORPS? SPACE FORCE? SPACE GUARD? A new twist has been added to the mix. Congress last year proposed a Space Corps, modeled after the Marine Corps. President Trump has floated a Space Force as a separate and equal branch of the military like the the Air Force. Now comes another thought: A Space Guard fashioned after the U.S. Coast Guard.

Experts debated the concept of a U.S. Space Guard last week at the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles. Greg Autry, a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business who served on the NASA transition team for the Trump administration, endorsed the notion of a cadre of space law enforcement officers to monitor compliance and orbital activities.

George Nield, the former associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, agreed. He noted there is today no single department or agency that is “charged with holistically managing U.S. interests in space.” The Commerce Department trying to become a “one-stop shop” for space regulations and economic issues is not enough, Nield argued. A broader effort is needed to oversee orbital debris, and search-and-rescue operations. A Space Guard would function as a civilian agency but could be activated to a military active-duty status if needed. An added bonus of a Space Guard? Its dual civilian-military status would preclude the need for a Space Force or a Space Corps.

“If I were to wave my magic wand, it would be something like an international police force of some sort, and a U.S. military Space Corps,” said Michael Laine, a former Marine who is currently president and chief strategic officer for the LiftPort Group in Tacoma, Washington. “I think there’s almost no way to not have an international policing-style organization, but for U.S. national interests I think that the Space Corps must be out there, in a military perspective, guarding U.S. interests.”

The debate unfolds as the Pentagon continues to analyze the reorganization of space programs and operational forces. An independent study will be submitted to Congress in August just before lawmakers begin to hash out policy provisions for the FY-19 National Defense Authorization Act in a House-Senate conference.

PENTAGON STEPS UP AI EFFORT AMID GOOGLE FIRESTORM A decision by Google to not renew a contract to develop artificial intelligence algorithms for the Defense Department is reverberating in the industry and AI world. The work was done under Project Maven, viewed as the military’s first major taste of the capabilities of AI. A petition from Google employees who demanded the company get out of the “business of war” prompted the move to end ties with DoD.

Google’s stance aside, the AI genie is out of the bottle and the Pentagon is already on a path to weaponize the technology. As tech entrepreneur Dan Feldman noted in a LinkedIn post, “Artificial intelligence like any technology is neither inherently military nor inherently civilian.” AI has already been weaponized for drone targeting, facial recognition, citizen tracking and surveillance, fake imagery and audio generation and cyber warfare.

Analyst Mikael Dubinsky of S4 Market Data, commented that Google bowing out of the project is about optics. “Most defense companies aren’t involved in our every day lives, data collecting, etc. Google is very visible to the consumer to be involved with this. It makes consumers feel uncomfortable. Everyone loves the idea of Skynet, but it’s less funny when they do it for real.”

MILITARY AI A BOON FOR GEOSPATIAL INDUSTRY Radiant Solutions plans to add 300 data scientists, software developers and geospatial analysts to its workforce of 1,100 over the next year to meet a growing demand for military intelligence and mapping. “We are seeing strong growth across the intelligence community and the Department of Defense,” Radiant’s president Tony Frazier told SpaceNews.

A burgeoning market associated with the rise of AI is training data. “Our goal is to make data openly available to facilitate the creation of great algorithms that we can then apply at scale against commercial and government sources,” Frazier said. DoD and the intelligence community are seeking technologies to automate data collection, extract information from data from both government and commercial sources. Competitions known as “machine learning challenges” — sponsored by the CIA’s investment arms In-Q-Tel and IARPA, by the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office DIUx and by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — are “indicative of the quest to transform the mapping and military intelligence mission.”

BLACKJACK ! DARPA TO BUILD MILITARY CONSTELLATION IN LEO DARPA is laying a path for the military to transition from huge satellites in geostationary orbit to larger constellations of smaller platforms in LEO. The basic formula will be to attach military-unique sensors and payloads to commercial satellite buses. DARPA plans to award $117.5 million in contracts over three phases to up to eight bus or payload suppliers. DARPA describes the Blackjack program as an “architecture demonstration intending to show the high military utility of global LEO constellations and mesh networks of lower size, weight, and cost spacecraft nodes.” No single type or size of bus or mission payload type will be considered “optimal” for this demonstration.

Projects like Blackjack are anomalies in the $9 billion-a-year DoD space portfolio. The bulk of the market is owned by a handful of huge companies that the government hires to build satellites, install ground systems and provide launch services. SpaceX has been a rare case of a commercial startup rising to the ranks of “big space contractor.” Most newcomers face huge barriers, as incumbents go to great lengths to secure the status quo. To this day, government program requirements often are written in ways that favor incumbents.

“Legacy companies have large Washington offices and teams of lobbyists petitioning the government,” said Charles Beames, executive chairman of York Space Systems. Beames is a retired Air Force colonel who served as a space procurement official at the Pentagon during the Obama administration. He now runs an industry group called the SmallSat Alliance that advocates for commercial manufacturers and data analytics firms.

TRADE WARS: IMPACT ON U.S. AEROSPACE American aerospace firms understand the Trump administration’s “focus on fair trade,” but retaliation from other countries over steel and aluminum tariffs could harm U.S. business, cautions Aerospace Industries Association President and CEO Eric Fanning. ”We’re concerned about the impact these specific tariffs might have, and we’re more concerned about what retaliation might mean for the industry.” Charity Weeden, space industry consultant and a senior fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the trade spat serves as a reminder that Canada is part of the North American defense industrial base. “The fact that the tariffs are being imposed due to national security has certainly hit a nerve,” Weeden told SpaceNews.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White spoke with reporters last week and said DoD is weighing the possible consequences. “I think we have to look at what the impact of those tariffs,” she said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has voiced support for tariffs for national security reasons. However, said White, “we have to take a holistic view and consider what the impact is and it’s just too early to say right now.”

MITRE will livestream a keynote presentation on YouTube on June 6 as part of the 2018 Space Computing & Connected Enterprise Resiliency Conference, which is hosted at MITRE in conjunction with the Association of Old Crows in Bedford, Mass. Ash Carter, MITRE Distinguished Fellow and former Secretary of Defense, will speak at 12:30pm. His remarks can be viewed live at


CANADA SPACE STRATEGY The Canadian government might release its new space strategy in the coming months but in the meantime has provided $20 million in research funding for domestic space companies and universities. The strategy is already more than a year behind schedule. Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development, said the government is committed to provide a future roadmap on space projects Canada intends to undertake. Bains announced 26.7 million Canadian dollars ($20.5 million) in funding for 46 space-related research projects at various aerospace firms and universities.

SPACE-X FALCON HEAVY UPDATE Arabsat will be the first Falcon Heavy commercial launch scheduled for late 2018. The Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based satellite operator told SpaceNews that the launch window for Arabsat 6A is between December and January. SpaceX has one Falcon Heavy launch scheduled ahead of Arabsat-6A — the U.S. Air Force’s STP-2 technology demonstration mission.

CHANGE DEFENSE ACQUISITION TO WIN SPACE RACE In a Hill editorial Joshua Huminski, director of the National Security Space Program and the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, says the U.S. must abandon clunky, outdated systems. “If Washington continues to rely on its overly bureaucratic acquisitions systems and risk calculus, it will lose the new space race. This may sound hyperbolic, but it is the critical risk our country faces today.”

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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...