An Orbital ATK Mission Extension Vehicle (left) approaches a commercial communications satellite. Credit: Orbital ATK illustration.

WASHINGTON — The two-star general in charge of strategic requirements for the U.S. Space Force is overseeing a study that will examine the capabilities of the commercial space industry.

The study was commissioned in October to the RAND Corp., a federally funded nonprofit think tank. It will identify commercial space technologies that the Space Force could put into use as well as the potential risks of employing commercial systems during an armed conflict.

The one-year study was directed by Maj. Gen. William Liquori when he was director of strategic requirements, architectures and analysis at Air Force Space Command. His office is now part of the U.S. Space Force.

A service spokeswoman told SpaceNews last week that the study is “intended to speed up the modernization of space capabilities in the Space Force.” The goal is to “begin assessing which missions are best suited for commercial applications,” said the spokeswoman. RAND analysts will consider the benefits and risks associated with integrating DoD architectures with commercial space.

Industry sources said it is noteworthy that the study was commissioned by Liquori. Before his current post, Liquori served as director of space policy on the National Security Council under the Obama and Trump administrations. In that capacity he played an influential role in moving space to the forefront as a national security issue.

According to a draft outline of the proposed study, RAND will examine multiple sectors of the commercial space industry, including satellite-based communications, remote sensing, launch, environmental monitoring, space situational awareness and on-orbit satellite servicing.

The study outline points out that the commercial space industry is innovating rapidly, creating opportunities for DoD to diversify the national security space architecture. It also cautions that “while commercial space capabilities could provide many benefits to DoD, incorporating them could also carry a set of risks that need to be better understood.”

Among the potential risks are vulnerabilities of commercial satellites to cyber attacks and the potential for “denial of or limited access and service due to foreign government influence or business priorities.”

DoD’s reliance on commercial space

The RAND study, expected to wrap up in September, is taking place against a backdrop of growing military reliance on commercial space technology.

According to Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, the military space enterprise accounts for just 20 percent of the space investment currently going on in the United States. The 80 percent comes from commercial investment.

The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, which was created to tap the commercial market for next-generation technologies, frequently solicits pitches from the space industry. The most recent solicitation issued last week is for commercial vehicles for in-space logistics

DIU asked for proposals on how commercial vehicles could be used to move satellites to and from different orbits, provide fuel depots and other deep-space logistics services.

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...