COLORADO SPRINGS — The Space Systems Command, a Los Angeles-based organization responsible for developing and buying space technologies for the U.S. military, is rebranding the commercial services office it established a year ago. 

The commercial services office, based in the Washington, D.C. area, was created to oversee the procurement of satellite-based services from the private sector such as communications, imagery and weather data. 

The office is being renamed Commercial Space Office, or COMSO. It will absorb the commercial services office and other organizations that work with the commercial space industry, including SpaceWERX,  the Space Domain Awareness data marketplace, the SSC Front Door initiative and a new program that is looking at ways the space industry could support the military during conflicts.

Brig. Gen. Jason Cothern, deputy commander of Space Systems Command, said it makes sense to bring all these different organizations under one roof to help improve the government’s access to commercial technology and, conversely, make it easier for companies to seek contracting opportunities. 

“We realized we needed to reimagine our commercial services office,” Cothern told reporters April 18 at the Space Symposium. 

New COMSO leader named

Col. Richard Kniseley, a senior materiel leader at Space Systems Command, has been named head of the commercial space office. 

He told SpaceNews that the consolidation of commercially-based activities allows the command to better “get after commercial capability.”

Because COMSO does not have the status of a program executive office (PEO) with its own procurement authority, it is being aligned with the space sensing PEO run by Col. Brian Denaro. 

“My PEO authority will actually be under Col. Denaro,” Kniseley said. “But I will be coordinating with the other PEOs who manage other mission areas.”

To fund procurements of commercial space services for military users, COMSO will establish a working capital fund, he said. This is a funding mechanism that allows military customers from any branch to pay for private-sector services 

Kniseley said it’s important for the command to start assessing what space technologies need to be developed by the government and which could be purchased from the commercial market. 

The head of Space Force procurement, assistant secretary for acquisition Frank Calvelli, “has been asking the PEOs to really do an assessment of what is inherently government and what can we start moving more towards commercial,” said Kniseley. 

These assessments will be discussed by a so-called “program integration council” led by senior Space Force and intelligence agency officials, Kniseley said. 

These assessments will help determine whether resources should be reallocated from traditional acquisitions to commercial services, Kniseley said. He noted that in order for COMSO to be a success, “there will have to be a carveout of commercial to allow me to go after what we need. Without that, it’s going to be a negotiation with the PEOs.”

“There is commercial capability that’s available right now that we could get into the warfighters’ hands,” he said. “We need to start doing that in peacetime and integrating it into the architecture so that they will be able to exercise in war games and utilize it.”

Most of the commercial space services the Space Force buys today are for satellite communications. Kniseley said there is a demand for other types of services such as satellite imagery in support of battlefield operations, weather data, space domain awareness, and alternative forms of navigation that don’t depend on GPS. 

“I see a lot of growth areas that I want to get after, especially with space domain awareness and tactical ISR that I’m really honing in on,” he said. “Obviously I need to work with our other agencies so we’re not duplicating work.”

‘Commercial strategy’ in the works

Kniseley said the COMSO reorganization is intended to support a high-level strategy for the integration of commercial space services into military systems and operations. 

This strategy is led by Chief Strategy and Resourcing Officer, Lt. Gen. Phillip Garrant. In a recent interview, Garrant said his office is “working on a strategy and policy for commercial space services, so not just satellite communications, but anything commercial space.”

This plan is being informed by a Defense Science Board study on commercial space directed by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu. “They are going to finish their study this summer,” said Garrant. “We are deliberately waiting for their results, so they can inform us.”

The Space Force leadership, he said, “asked us to take a very holistic look of what’s inherently governmental. And what’s commercial. The intent isn’t to outsource everything, but where we can, are there things that can be contracted or should be contracted?”

Compared to the other branches of the military, Garrant said, “there are advantages for us in leveraging commercial, as we’re a relatively small force.” So where it makes sense, Garrant said, “using commercial lets us reprioritize guardians on the most important missions. This is an enabler for us too, it’s not just commercial for commercial sake.”

And from a national security perspective, he added, “the entanglement gives us a lot of resiliency, because it complicates the adversary’s calculus. There’s plenty of good reasons to do this.”

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...