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Space Force Considering NASA-Style Partnerships With Private Companies

Article by Sandra Erwin                           June 4, 2020                          (spacenews.com)

• The launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on May 30th that took NASA astronauts to the International Space Station was the “culmination of perhaps the most successful private-public partnership of all times,” said Colonel Eric Felt, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate. In a SpaceNews online event June 4th, Felt noted that Space Force will be far smaller than the other U.S. military services, so it plans to follow the NASA playbook and team up with the private sector. “The Space Force is going to be the most high tech of all of the services,” said Felt.

• Public-private partnerships, like deals with SpaceX and Boeing, have saved NASA billions of dollars. There are many commercial capabilities that can be used to meet military needs, with “hybrid architecture”. For example, commercial companies already have powerful sensors and data analytics systems to track and investigate space objects. The Space Force’s AFRL is looking into public-private deals to use these commercial satellites to enhance its “space domain awareness”, allowing Space Force to monitor every object in outer space. (see video below)

• Another application using private satellites in low Earth orbit is for the deployment of sensors for the Air Force’s ‘Advanced Battle Management System’, allowing the military to integrate and analyze data from space rather than from the more vulnerable command-and-control airplanes flying over enemy territory.

• Next year, AFRL plans to launch an experimental ‘cubesat’ satellite equipped with a ‘Link 16’ encrypted radio frequency data link, widely used on U.S. military and NATO aircraft and ground vehicles to share information, as a communications network relay in space. With “one of these Link 16 transponders (attached to) each of these low Earth orbit satellites, you would basically have Link 16 capability everywhere all the time,” said Felt.

• Private companies deploying broadband satellite constellations in low Earth orbit would be candidates for partnerships where these commercial satellites would also host government communications. The Defense Innovation Unit of the AFRL and the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center have been talking about setting up a ‘space commodities exchange’ where space services could be traded like commodities. “The space domain awareness data might be a great example of the kinds of things that the Space Force could purchase through a space commodities exchange,” said Felt.

 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force will be far smaller than the other military services but way more dependent on technology to do its job. While the Space Force will develop satellites and other technologies in-house, it also plans to follow the NASA playbook and team up with the private sector, said Col. Eric Felt, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate.

       Colonel Eric Felt

Speaking at a SpaceNews online event June 4, Felt said NASA’s commercial crew program is “super exciting” and one that the Space Force can learn from.

The launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on May 30 that took NASA astronauts to the International Space Station was the “culmination of perhaps the most successful private-public partnership of all times,” said Felt.

The Space Vehicles Directorate, located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, is one of the organizations that Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett agreed to transfer to the Space Force. Felt said his office will remain at its current location but approximately 700 people will be reassigned to the Space Force.

“The Space Force is going to be the most high tech of all of the services,” said Felt.

Public-private partnerships like NASA’s commercial crew deals with SpaceX and Boeing have saved NASA billions of dollars and serve as a “powerful model” that the Defense Department could adopt, said Felt.

1:02:30 video on military/corporate partnerships for Space Force (‘SpaceNewsInc’ YouTube)

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