Categories: Economic News

Edition of opinion | Why a “hybrid” space architecture makes sense for economic and national security

Once-in-a-generation advances in commercial technology will fundamentally strengthen the US economic and security posture in space.

Policymakers are right to expect that the national security establishment will find ways to take full advantage of innovations and investment in commercial space capabilities such as launch and imaging.

But far less obvious and even more profound is a very real revolution underway: the wholesale overhaul of our national security space architecture into a “hybrid” design that effectively integrates the best of commercial and government investments.

This transformation of our national security space architecture is motivated not only by the amazing and innovative advances in the commercial space sector, but also by the realization that our adversaries are determined to displace America’s leadership in space and target the our currently vulnerable space capabilities. if a conflict arises on Earth.

These twin motivations are driving a series of once-in-a-generation changes that will fundamentally strengthen America’s economic and security posture in space.

Those leading the redesign of our national security space architecture in both the intelligence community and the Department of Defense are quietly but effectively using three different approaches to capture the best of commercial space capabilities and adapt them to our national security needs.

The first approach is to augment government-developed capabilities with commercial products and services. Recently, the National Recognition Office awarded the most important contracts for the commercial image of his story. When combined with exquisite imagery provided by government-developed sources, this approach will dramatically increase intelligence capability and provide the US with the ability to share with the world what we see from space without disclosing sources and methods of intelligence

Another much less visible approach being used is to leverage innovation and venture investment in commercial space technologies while adapting them to national security needs. The next generation of intelligence satellites being developed will use flight-tested hardware purchased from commercial spacecraft manufacturers and retrofit it with government payloads to reduce cost and speed of deployment.

This is not just a plan. The first of these hybrid satellites are already being tested in space, having gone from idea to orbit in less than three years, a fraction of the traditional time to develop and launch a new capability.

By radically reducing the cost of these hybrid satellites, we can afford many more, which not only improves the technical performance of the constellation, but also dramatically increases architectural resilience. The proliferation of many more hybrid surveillance satellites makes it more difficult for adversaries to track, target, and disrupt or destroy our spacecraft in the event of a conflict.

The final hybrid approach being used is the incorporation of commercially derived business models by traditional defense companies. The proliferation of commercial space providers has created a highly technical aerospace workforce that operates more like a Silicon Valley startup than a large defense contractor.

In order to take full advantage of this, we see large defense companies partnering with or acquiring space startups and allowing their best business practices to flourish to experiment and develop capabilities quickly, while the established defense company offers the government a proven ability to perform classified integration and delivery.

Combining the reliability and assurance of the cleared defense industrial base with the speed and innovation of our space entrepreneurs is another hybrid approach that is already showing positive results.

As good as they are, today’s commercial space capabilities are not a replacement for government-developed national security capabilities, nor should the US be content to rely solely on commercial solutions for national security. Doing so may save money, but it effectively reduces our technical capabilities to what anyone (including our adversaries) can acquire on the market.

However, by quietly and creatively combining best practices from both the commercial and defense sectors to produce “hybrid” space capabilities, we can increase our economic and national security.

John Paul (JP) Parker served as the US Intelligence Community’s Space Executive from 2018 to 2022, and was previously Special Advisor for Space, Cyber, and Intelligence to the Vice President of the United States united


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