How Space Leaders are Shifting the Industry Collaboration Paradigm

The commercialization of space has skyrocketed in recent years; the ubiquity of launch, the proliferation of commercial satellites in space and the rise of military activity in the domain has simultaneously accelerated space innovation and increased competition across the globe.

For the U.S. government, industry’s growing footprint in space is unlocking new possibilities and prompting the country’s space agencies to take a fresh look at the internal changes that need to be made to facilitate these opportunities.

“Increasingly these days, the government is not the driving customer, which creates unique challenges, but it also creates tremendous opportunities,” said Col. Edward Ferguson, deputy director of space and missile defense programs for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, during GovCon Wire’s 2023 Space Acquisition Forum. 

With a new sense of unity and cohesion, space organizations in the public sector are flipping the acquisition paradigm and letting industry lead. Barbara Baker, deputy program executive officer for MilComm & PNT at the Space Systems Command, said more collaboration and communication with commercial companies are essential to SSC’s future.

“What we’re up against now is really trying to break down walls to realize we have to be more integrated between what industry is doing with commercial [and] what specifically we need to go build for very specialized programs,” Baker shared. 

“There is a trade space that has opened up, and we need industry’s help to educate us on all the capability out there. We need to figure out how to leverage what is out there, especially given the timelines that we’re on now,” she added.

In order to open the door to this kind of education, Baker said SSC is conducting what they call “reverse industry days.” During these events, government agencies ditch the outdated, ineffective model of laying out their stringent requirements and acquisition strategies for industry to comment on.

“We’d be in this great forum with all of our industry partners, and no one would say anything. We’d have all these specific one-on-ones, but it was more of a one-way communication,” Baker said of the traditional industry day model.

SSC’s new approach is to let industry do the talking. Baker explained that reverse industry days are “the mechanism for industry to come in and share with us so we can sit back and listen and figure out instead of us directing the requirement to them.”

Col. Ferguson pointed out that communication is also essential between DOD agencies — not just industry partners — especially as this new era of interagency collaboration allows once disparate space organizations to achieve “unity of effort” as Baker termed it.

We’re seeing what Ferguson called “unprecedented levels of collaboration” between components like the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the Space Development Agency, Space Systems Command, the National Reconnaissance Office and even members of the intelligence community. 

This strengthened partnership, along with new integrated acquisition portfolio reviews and the capability portfolio management review process implemented by Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisitions and Integration, is ultimately eliminating duplication, Ferguson said. 

But while duplication is harmful to progress, similarity can actually enable it. “Not all similarity is bad — sometimes it provides robustness,” Ferguson said.

He continued, “If you have a single point of failure and you’re in a situation like combat, contingencies, crises, you really want to make sure that you have similarity in your system inherently so that you can always use a capability.”

Don’t miss the next big conversation between government and industry! Join ExecutiveBiz for its Homeland Security Forum on Feb. 7 to learn more about how agencies are tackling the homeland security mission in today’s ever-evolving climate. Register here.

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