HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Space Force is launching a new industry outreach program expected to award up to $50 million in contracts to small businesses and startups. 

Called SpaceWERX, the program is the space-focused spinoff of AFWERX, created by the Air Force in 2017 to tap into private sector investment and help bring to market nascent technologies relevant to national security.

SpaceWERX on Aug. 19 will hold its inaugural event, a virtual Space Force Pitch Day where companies will pitch technologies and compete for up to $34 million in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 2 contracts. The competitors already received $50,000 Phase 1 awards for study contracts. 

Additional funds will be up for award under the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program where small businesses partner with nonprofit research institutions to commercialize technology. 

SpaceWERX in the coming weeks will launch a larger initiative called “Space Prime,” modeled after Agility Prime, a project AFWERX sponsored in 2020 to advance the market for electric-powered drones that take off and land vertically. With Space Prime, the government would provide both financial and technical support for technologies considered strategically important. The goal is to identify technologies that might be on the cusp of becoming commercially viable and could use a little push from the government. 

“We’re particularly excited about Space Prime,” said Lt. Col. Walter McMillan, SpaceWERX director. “Space Prime is our strong signal to academia, industry, investment, interagency and international partners on a specific mission area where we aim to energize the space industrial base and develop on-orbit capability in an accelerated timeline. We are targeting operational capability in two to four years.”

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...