A Way to Cope With Increasing Competition in Space

SpaceArch2In an analysis done for NASA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Science and Technology Policy Institute warns of increased competition in space. The institute then offers a plan for the U.S. to maintain the leadership in space that it has enjoyed for more than half a century.

The report is entitled “Global Policy Issues” and details how the number of nations with financial interests in space has grown to nearly 170. U.S. government agencies and departments spend more than $43 billion annually on space-based activities, and spending by other nations totals more than $250 billion, according to the report. Much of the international space spending is driven by leveraging new technology developed by commercial industry.

The price and commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) availability of processing power, sensors, propulsion and other technology has lowered costs and allowed other countries to invest in space – whether or not they launch their own satellites. The report predicts that commercial space products and services, along with commercial space infrastructure and support, will more than double by 2024, comprising 86 percent of a $600 billion overall space market.

That growth is illustrated by such evolving technology as the Intelsat IS-33e satellite, scheduled for launch later this month. Intelsat IS-33e is the second of the Intelsat EpicNG high-throughput constellation, designed for dramatically enhanced throughput performance and signal resilience.

While international growth portends some reduction in U.S. stature as the principal space actor, the report suggests the United States can avoid diminished space capability if it will “accept the trends as inevitable, get ahead of them, and pre-position the nation to benefit from them.”

That can best be done by “both leveraging the growing and independently capable private sector and markets outside government … and taking a leadership role in addressing new challenges,” the report says.

A good example is how the production of integrated computer circuits evolved. The development of these circuits was originally directed by the military, to better control U.S. missiles. Many years ago the commercial industry took over the production of integrated circuits, constantly innovating and increasing their efficiency and performance. Today, government reaps these benefits as a customer.

This role reversal decreases cost and increases execution speed. It’s similar to the approach recommended by Myland Pride, Intelsat General’s Director, Government and Legislative Affairs, in a speech to MilSatCom USA in June. Pride listed three advantages to government adopting more commercial technology: less expense, quicker access to advancing capability and increased resilience.

In remarks in Massachusetts on July 26, Defense Sec. Ashton Carter outlined a changing Pentagon approach to increased capability with its newly created Defense Innovation Board, which will encourage a culture of greater speed and less risk aversion. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and former Special Operations commander Adm. (ret.) William McRaven are on the board, as is former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Carter also spoke of a push toward prototyping as a way to speed innovation, promising more funding and less complex acquisition methods to better attract industry ideas and innovation.

But, he added, help is needed from Congress, which controls acquisition policy through legislation.

“We can’t accomplish what we’re trying to do in the DoD without a willing partner in Congress,” Carter said. “So I’m hopeful Congress will join us in trying to break away from the status quo, break out of our ruts, and help keep our military the best and most capable in the world, so we can continue to keep America safe and secure.”

An increasing number of members of Congress are learning that the acquisition system requires reform to get technology to the warfighter faster. But, Carter said, others still need to understand the role of acquisition in warfare.

“This is critical, just as critical as everything else we do in defense,” he said. “I need their help in that regard the same as I need them to provide funding for the war against ISIL.”

It’s an attitude the commercial space industry applauds. And one that’s aligned with maintaining U.S. leadership in the face of growing international competition in a crowded and contested space environment.

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