WASHINGTON — SpaceWERX, the technology arm of the U.S. Space Force, is looking to award a new round of Small Business Innovation Research contracts worth up to $1.9 million each for IT infrastructure upgrades at the Eastern and Western launch ranges.

The project known as Digital Spaceport of the Future was announced earlier this month. SpaceWERX officials on Jan. 10 said launch ranges are in dire need of IT upgrades and are seeking proposals from the private sector by February 7.

Maj. Jareth Lamb, deputy director of SpaceWERX, said during a briefing that the contracts will be “direct to Phase 2” SBIR/STTR agreements. These are Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer deals that require collaboration between small businesses and non-profit research institutions.

Direct to Phase 2 means the selected companies will bypass the typical Phase I feasibility study and jump straight into developing and deploying solutions. 

Looking for ‘tangible outcomes’

Maj. Jason Lowery, deputy director of technology and innovation at the Space Systems Command’s Assured Access to Space office, said the proposals more likely to be selected are those that offer ready technologies that can be put into use within 18 months. “While we appreciate your cutting-edge ideas, our bias is going to be towards proposals that promise tangible outcomes, so please keep that in mind,” Lowery told participants on a SpaceWERX webinar.

He said current IT systems are relics of a bygone era when national security launches were few and far between. Today, there is a surge in commercial activity, with SpaceX alone launching nearly 100 missions in 2023 and new rockets expected to ramp up in the next few years. The IT infrastructure simply can’t keep up, Lowery said.

Although the Space Force has ample funding for launch services and payloads, the Assured Access to Space Office struggles with inadequate IT budgets, said Lowery.

“So we have much to gain from collaborations like this with SpaceWERX,” he added. “We’re looking forward to working with small businesses to see what you all can bring to the table, and we hope this can be the first of several challenges to come over the next several years.”

Lowery said the project is suited for non-traditional businesses and space startups that are commercially oriented. “In direct-to-Phase 2 awards, companies can skip paperwork and prototypes to immediately implement real working systems over the 24-month contract period.”

Most of the work under the digital spaceport project is unclassified, he said, “because most of what we launch are civil and commercial payloads, not national security payloads. So this makes us an ideal entry point for companies aiming to expand into the DoD sector and particularly the U.S. Space Force,” Lowery added. “You don’t have to go through a very lengthy classification clearance process to work with us.”

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...