Space Force looking to ease barriers to entry for commercial companies

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A new Commercial Space Futures Office is helping the Space Force analyze the technical and financial wherewithal of commercial space companies that want to pitch products to the military

COLORADO SPRINGS – The U.S. Space Systems Command, the procurement arm of the Space Force, is looking for opportunities to buy “space as a service” from companies that provide weather data, imagery and other intelligence collected by satellites.

This is a departure from the customary practice of building bespoke military satellites, but the government wants to give it a try, said Debra Emmons, vice president and chief technology officer of Aerospace Corp.

Emmons runs a new organization known as the Commercial Space Futures Office, created to help connect space companies with government buyers, and to vet companies’ technical capabilities before they pitch their services to the government. 

“We’re seeing a real push across the Department of Defense, Space Force, the intelligence community and civil space to migrate to a more commercial-first approach,” Emmons told SpaceNews

Aerospace is a federally funded corporation based in Los Angeles that provides technical support to the Space Force and other agencies. Under its agreement with the Space Systems Command, the Commercial Space Futures Office can offer space companies access to 100,000 square feet of laboratory facilities to validate their technology, said Emmons.

Since the office opened for business in December, it has received many queries from space startups looking to sell products and services to the Space Force, she said. It also has worked with established companies like Anduril, Freedom Photonics and Cubic Technologies, to help them assess whether their technologies fit the demands of the Space Force.

“This is really about trying to ‘de-risk’ commercial solutions,” she said. The Space Force sees how much investment is going into commercial space and wants to leverage that technology, Emmons added. The issue is how mature and how ready some of those technologies are, which is what the new office seeks to answer. 

“We do due diligence and readiness assessments,” she said. That includes evaluations of companies’ financial and technical wherewithal, as well as their supply chains. 

George Tromba, principal director of the Commercial Space Futures Office, said he frequently hears from startups that need help overcoming high barriers to entry into the defense market. “We have noticed an uptick in different companies coming to us,” he said. “A lot of them have been basically cold calling us. They need help maturing technology and in some instances they need help to come up with a concept of operations that’s going to work for potential government customers.”

Tromba said the Space Systems Command is looking at possible contracting mechanisms it could use to buy space services. The office that buys communications services from commercial satellite operators is providing “a wealth of knowledge” that will be applied to contracting for other types of services, he said. 

Aerospace wants to be an honest broker and not create hurdles for commercial players that want to work with DoD, said Tromba. “We are working to really change the model where the combined government-FFRDC [federally funded research and development corporation] team used to be more hesitant to engage and have a dialogue of substance with commercial entrants. That model is fundamentally shifting.”

The conversations taking place with commercial space players, he said, are “shaping how the government can do this commercial-first approach because they are absolutely all in.”