Commercial space activity is expanding at a logarithmic pace - and the entire planet wants in. While the U.S. leads the world in space innovation and infrastructure, nations like China and Russia are pushing for that top spot.
The ultimate leaders will reap the benefits of space domain accessibility and security. For space endeavors to remain a profitable and productive partner to the U.S. industry, the U.S. government and industry leaders must work fast to enhance technology, prepare the future workforce, and encourage innovative strategies vital to commercial space development.
In the first week of May, industry group New Space New Mexico hosted the State of the Space Industrial Base 2020 Virtual Solutions Workshop. Attended by over 120 government, academia, and industry leaders, the virtual workshop held discussions on how the U.S. plans to maintain strategic leadership in the space arena moving forward.
Conference sponsors United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), and United States Space Force (USSF) arrived at six categories of focus critical to the ongoing success of the U.S. space industrial base in the face of global competition.
- Space Policy & Financial Tools: Secure US space leadership by building a unity-of-effort and incentivizing the space industrial base.
- Space Information Services: Enhance space communications, positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), and a full range of Earth observing functions with commercial, civil, and military applications.
- Space Transportation & Logistics: Optimize these to, in, and from Earth’s orbit and beyond.
- Human Presence: Expand human resource pool for exploration, space tourism, space manufacturing, and resource extraction.
- In-Space Power: Ensure power supplies to enable a full range of emerging space applications and systems.
- Space Manufacturing & Resource Extraction: Expand to cover both terrestrial and in space markets.
To guarantee the U.S. space industrial base as a major contributor to U.S. national power, conference participants evaluated the current state and key challenges for each of the six categories and developed recommendations on the actions needed to maintain and expand the US space industrial base while meeting national security needs.
Create “North Star” Vision and Strategy
In July, workshop sponsors released an 86-page report titled, ''State of the Space Industrial Base 2020: A Time for Action to Sustain U.S. Economic and Military Leadership in Space,” summarizing the specific government and industry actions needed to address existing challenges.
Among recommendations for U.S. policymakers, the report urges a whole-of-government, “North Star” top-level vision and strategy for space industrial development.
“This recommendation is particularly important, and I believe that we’re getting there,” said Space Force Chief Scientist Dr. Joel B. Mozer during a recent virtual panel at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I will say that other nations — specifically China — have a very long-term view of the future of space and they are making targeted, consistent and far-reaching investments towards their own vision,” said Mozer. “The importance of such a vision is that it has the potential to drive national pride and instill a culture of progress and highlights the value of STEM education for aspiring youth.”
Protect, Support, and Leverage Space Commerce
The report also recommends that the Department of Defense (DoD) develop plans to protect, support, and leverage commerce in space, noting that protecting internet communications, global positioning systems, and internet communications are of primary concern.
“DoD efforts in this area are underfunded and insufficiently coordinated across the department,” the report states. Participants also recommend faster scientific experimentation. “The very long schedules of many DoD space programs limit the opportunities for short design-build-test projects that stimulate interest and innovation within the US workforce.”
Develop Space Commodities Exchange / Space Bonds
Conference participants also discussed novel funding approaches, including the creation of space bonds and a space commodities exchange to economically stimulate the industry. In the last five years, commercial space technology companies received around $11 billion in private capital. But authors worry about the impact of COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the entire U.S. space industry,” the report states. “Without action, the expected post-COVID-19 global recession will dry up further investments into the space sector.”
Our government depends on the commercial sector to secure efficient, affordable space systems. Authors recommended a space commodities exchange to execute $1 billion of DoD and NASA funding.
“Purchasing power should be used to promote a hybrid (government and commercial) space architecture to include committing $1 billion per year on hybrid architecture through a commodities exchange and a diversity of sources,” the report stated.
Train Workforce for U.S. STEM Jobs
Looking toward human presence, the report recommends the U.S. government and industry work together to create the workforce needed to accompany over 10,000 Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs in the U.S.
“The current and projected level of STEM personnel is insufficient to support the development of expanded national space capabilities within the US space industrial base,” the report states. “Businesses should engage across the US educational system to guide and develop the future STEM workforce to fuel the future space economy, to include funding undergraduate scholarships/loans for STEM students, internships and providing space professionals to support instruction in space subjects.”
Form Industry – Government Partnerships
Participants also pushed for collaboration between industry leaders and the government to create and manage joint civil, defense, and commercial space capabilities. “These partnerships should jointly fund developing capabilities that benefit from but are not heavily reliant on US government investment and revenue for their commercial viability.”
“Space Force must leverage the technologies and approaches at the frontier of this commercial expansion,” explains U.S. Space Force general and chief of space operations John William "Jay" Raymond. “By working with commercial partners, we will harness the best of both civil and government technology to further accelerate capabilities and expand overall space economy.”
Raymond states that while the report does not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or other government agencies, it accurately documents the findings and recommendations of the conference. “It is important that we listen to these insights and evaluate the feasibility of implementing them in the advancement of national interests,” said Raymond.
In addition to Raymond and Mozer, the main authors of the report include USAF Brigadier General Steven J. Butow - Director of the Space Portfolio at the Defense Innovation Unit, USAF Colonel Eric Felt - Director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, and Dr. Thomas Cooley - Chief Scientist of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate.
Moving forward, conference participants urge the Department of Defense to clarify to the industry “their long-term architectural needs and requirements and the roles and responsibilities of the USSF to protect lines of commerce.”