Move Forward Together or Lose Edge in Space – Satellite 2015 and Beyond

As I sat in the “Future of Government and Military Space: Safe Bets and Bold Predictions” panel at the Satellite 2015 show recently, I recognized an important change for the first time in many years of attending a myriad of space-related conferences. Finally, commercial industry and U.S. government space experts seemed consistently well-aligned on the value of commercial space assets for military and civilian government use.

This consensus is happening just in time. Kay Sears of Intelsat General Corporation (IGC) issued a strong warning as part of the panel, voicing something both industry and the U.S. government seem to be taking very seriously:

The U.S. will lose its edge in space if it does not leverage what the commercial industry brings to the table.”

At the conference, everyone pretty much agreed that the threat landscape is getting worse and investments need to be made in space-based security and cyberspace to ensure future national security interests. No one disputed the fact that budgetary constraints have had a significant impact and that savings must be found wherever possible.

But the consensus that hasn’t been heard as loudly — until now – focused on commercial industry involvement; yes, perhaps the commercial industry can be more fully leveraged and integrated into the DoD’s space architecture to ensure that the benefits of commercial best practices and assets can be fully realized. This change has been a long time coming, and like a stone rolling downhill it seems to be gathering momentum.

Imagine the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC) seriously discussing integrating a commercial cell into its facility to test commercial capabilities for military missions. And hearing the DoD state it may no longer need to own its own wideband satellite system! Or someone asking why spend the time and resources needed to run the DoD’s own tracking, telemetry and control for its government-owned assets when commercial can do it more efficiently for less?

From Col. Chris Crawford of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (OSD) to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), representatives were all singing the same song as those of us in the satellite industry. As the NRO’s Tina Harrington stated very clearly, “We should leverage existing systems and processes and focus instead on those things unique to the USG.”

It feels like the President’s Space Policy of 2010 is finally starting to achieve its full potential. Use commercial first, and if it’s not available, THEN build it.

Change is never easy, and certainly challenges remain in determining the best way forward in space. But I came away from Satellite 2015 feeling like things truly have changed, and the DoD and the commercial space industry will identify more efficient and collaborative ways to work together and ensure our country’s security in space.