WASHINGTON — A plan to establish a commercial space reserve to ensure the U.S. military has access to commercial satellites during conflicts is moving closer to completion, U.S. Space Force leaders said Oct. 18.

Under a program known as Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve (CASR), the Space Force will establish agreements with companies to ensure services like satellite communications and remote sensing are prioritized for U.S. government use during national security emergencies.

U.S. Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman said a plan to implement a commercial space reserve has been approved by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. He described the program as an example of prudent planning so the military rapidly access commercial services if a crisis erupts.

CASR is about “doing the planning and the expectation management before you actually need the capability,” Saltzman said during a fireside chat at the Center for a New American Security.

The strategy identifies “areas that we know we can use commercial augmentation,” he said, such as satellite communications and imagery. 

“In a time of crisis or in a natural disaster, I may need to increase the scale of imagery that’s available,” said Saltzman. 

CASR would “pre-work the contract vehicles, stating how we would get access to services rapidly if we needed to, so that when the crisis occurs, we don’t then start the contracting action and we’ve already done a lot of that legwork.”

Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of the Space Systems Command, said Oct. 18 that the funding for the CASR program would be requested in the 2025 and 2026 budgets. 

“We’ve got permission from the Secretary of the Air Force to move out on that strategy,” Guetlein said at the AFCEA Space Industry Days conference in Los Angeles.

“A commercially augmented space reserve is about building capacity for times of crisis or conflict during peacetime,” said Guetlein. “How do I build in the business processes, the relationships, the exercises, the funding during peacetime, so during times of crisis or conflict, we don’t start with an RFP [request for proposals] as our point of departure.”

“We’re hoping that it will be rolled out by the administration this fall,” said Guetlein. “And then the funding will start to roll behind in the 2025 or 2026 timeframe.”

Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein speaks Oct. 18, 2023, at the AFCEA Space Industry Days. Credit: SSC

Separately from the CASR program, the Space Force is working on a commercial strategy, or a blueprint for how it will integrate commercial satellite services into routine military activities. 

Saltzman last month said an early draft of the strategy did not pass muster and was being revised. 

“I didn’t think it provided the necessary specificity that would really help industry give us what we need,” he said at the CNAS event. 

The commercial strategy work is led by Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Strategy and Programs Lt. Gen. Philip Garrant.

Saltzman said the blueprint is being updated to “provide some tangible guidance that I think industry is looking to get from us.”

The strategy has to answer basic questions such as, “Do we procure data the same way we procure software?  Are we looking for commercial services or are we looking for commercial assets to be operated by the government? And how do we decide what are the inherently governmental functions that have to be performed by the Space Force, versus services I could outsource?” he added. “We didn’t have really good solid answers.”

The Space Force has established commercial procurement programs for launch services, for example. But Saltzman said there is a need for specific guidance on emerging space industry services — such as rapid-revisit satellite imaging and in-orbit surveillance of space objects — many of which have only become available in recent years.

“I just felt like it was important that we answered those questions first” rather than put out an “aspirational” strategy, said Saltzman. “It’s about getting to the next level of specificity.”

He said he could not provide a specific timeline for when the strategy might be released but is pressing his staff to move as quickly as possible. “I’m pushing hard because I know there’s a hunger for this.” 

Guetlein said the Space Systems Command’s new Commercial Space Office has been laying some of the groundwork for the Space Force’s commercial strategy. 

The command’s commercial office, known as COMSO, set up shop in Chantilly, Virginia, in order to be closer to other defense agencies, Congress and the Pentagon. 

Guetlein noted that Saltzman had put the Space Force’s commercial strategy on pause “because it wasn’t aggressive enough … So he’s asked General Garrant to go back and rewrite that plan to be more aggressive, to get after better partnerships, stronger partnerships.”

COMSO over the past several months has started forging partnerships with industry and identified missions where the Space Force could take advantage of emerging commercial services, such as positioning, navigation, and timing; and space domain awareness, said Guetlein.

The work done by COMSO will support the Space Force strategy, “to make sure we’re aligned across the entire DoD,” he said. 

Guetlein noted that COMSO has acquired about $250 million worth of commercial space data. The commercial satellite communications office “continues to grow like gangbusters,” with 70 different contracts worth $3.6 billion. 

The Space Force’s acquisition executive Frank Calvelli is planning an “architecture day” next month, said Guetlein. “He is personally going to look at how we integrate better across commercial satcom and where does the DoD really need to invest in satcom.”

“That is a mindset shift change across the department that we weren’t able to get through just two years ago,” said Guetlein. “COMSO is leading the way.”

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...