Military buyers challenged to stay on top of the latest commercial space innovations

Space Force Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein said current commercial innovation is “outpacing the government’s demand signal.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. military buyers of space systems have for decades relied on a stable group of aerospace and defense companies to develop technologies and launch them into orbit at the government’s request.

In the years since SpaceX discontinued the military launch market, the growth of the space economy driven by private money has upended what was historically a government-driven approach to technological developments.

Keeping up with commercial space activities has been a challenge for military procurement organizations, Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of the US Space Force Space Systems Command, said on May 18.

We are seeing more innovation coming from industry than we have seen since the moon drive, a huge amount,” Guetlein said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

“Today we are at a point where business innovation is outpacing the demand signal from the government, which traditionally hasn’t happened,” Guetlein said.

As taking the helm at the Los Angeles-based Space Systems Command last summer, Guetlein has launched a series of efforts to bridge the gap between military buyers and space startups.

One initiative is to help startups and small businesses navigate the complex government purchases ground. Getlein. There are plenty of business opportunities for companies, but they’re not presented in a user-friendly way, he said. “With the acronyms, the names of the offices, the different hubs that exist, we completely confuse the industry, they have no idea how to do business with the government.”

Space Systems Command has assigned officers known as “sherpas” to help guide startups and small businesses unfamiliar with defense acquisitions, he said. “They will be the ones to show the way to a customer.”

The command has also established a business services office “to cover as much of the business industry as possible,” Guetlein said. “When we set up Space Systems Command, we did it with a mantra that we’re going to ‘buy what we can and build only what we must’ write the model.”

The business services office has a responsibility to “try to look at the entire industry to understand what’s in the realm of the possible,” he said. Its key task is to identify technologies developed for commercial use that can also serve a military need.

Space Systems Command will also increase the frequency of face-to-face “industry day” meetings with the private sector.

Last fall, the command hosted a meeting focused on cross-link communications technologies to connect satellites in space.

On May 19-20, companies were invited to showcase technologies at a “Tactical ISR Industry Day,” focused on space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in the commercial sector.

“It’s going to be a reverse industrial day,” Guetlein said. Instead of companies showing up to hear about the government’s wish list, Space Force program managers will listen to what companies have to offer. “That allows us to learn more about what’s out there,” he said.

Next month there will be a similar event focused on cislunar space domain awareness, and another later in the year on commercial data analytics tools.

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