Can Space Innovation Survive the Committee Markup Process?

With a sequestration cloud hanging low over Washington, the government should be anxious to find new, more economical ways to provide highquality SATCOM for U.S. troops deployed around the world. Unfortunately, some recent house appropriations language seems to deter such innovation.

Innovative approaches to space have proven reliable and more economical than traditional models. See here a recent MSNBC article touting the successful work of SpaceX on behalf of NASA.

Another example of innovation is the successful use of a hosted payload approach by the Australian Defense Force (ADF).

Forward looking military commanders want to build on these successes, and continue to explore new and different ways of ensuring our nation’s SATCOM superiority.Regrettably, change doesn’t happen quickly in Washington, even with the impending budget crisis.

The House Appropriations Committee recently rejected funding for a hosted payload as part of an Air Force initiative known as the Space Modernization Initiative. The Space Modernization Initiative is used, in part, to fund innovative programs to ensure that space systems will meet future endeavors.  The money attached to the hosted payload initiative was $12 million, a pittance in this context. More troubling than the lost funding is the accompanying language, that states:

The Committee is concerned that, in a time of declining budgets, the Air Force and the Department of Defense may resort to silver-bullet acquisition concepts in an attempt to save money and accelerate immature concepts and technologies…Quick-fix substitutes for years of hard-won experience are attractive but illusory.

To refer to programs like hosted payloads as “immature concepts”, “quick fix substitutes” and “illusory” is disturbing. Particularly in light of the recently successful Australian Defence Force hosted payload.In many ways, this language closes the door on innovation and implies that only programs that have been acquired over decades are valid solutions. 

Solely protecting programs of record is a slippery slope not only in this budget environment, but also as we look to continue our space superiority in the future.  Congress must look at affordable investments and new acquisitions, instead of their current more-of-the-same approach.  Just like our Allies have done.

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