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News | Sept. 22, 2023

Commercial and government partnerships essential for space innovation

By Staff Report

Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander, joined the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Dr. John Plumb, and Mandy Vaughn, CEO and founder of GXO Inc. on a panel to discuss “Commercial Space Power and the Next Space Age” at this year’s Tech Crunch Disrupt conference Sept. 19.

The three-day conference brought together approximately 11,000 founders, investors, marketers, students, and technical professionals from across international communities to explore the latest technologies in space, security, artificial intelligence, and information technology. This particular panel aimed at addressing the opportunities and challenges the U.S. government and the private sector face in working together in the domain.
Dickinson opened his remarks highlighting the significant growth in USSPACECOM’s integration and partnership across commercial industry, from the nearly 40 partners that are part of either the Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, or the Joint Task Force-Space Defense Commercial Operations Cell (JCO) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the more than 180 space situational sharing agreements the command has with allies, partners, academia and industry.
Such partnerships present “a great opportunity for us to share information, look at operations in space, all with the theme of coming back to making sure that we have a safe, secure and stable space domain environment in which to operate. And so those are our areas that were growing very rapidly,” Dickinson said.

Plumb further emphasized how space is absolutely essential for the entire Department of Defense, “it’s in our DNA… and now that space is democratized…all sorts of players, people in this room, people watching, can be part of the space piece.”

With incredible innovation occurring across commercial industry, Plumb underscored areas where the DOD can serve to benefit, particularly in areas of resilience. 

The DOD recently released its unclassified strategy for protecting and defending U.S. military satellites and the joint force from adversary hostile use of space. Part of that strategy includes achieving resilience of space-based services through a range of approaches, such as diversification across platforms, orbits, systems, and capabilities of civil, commercial, or international partners.   

“The department cannot get enough of space,” Plumb said, adding that his position was created because of the recognition that “space is now so important to national security and to national defense…space is essential, and I think that opens up this opportunity for more commercial integration that simply didn't exist before.”

Commercial and private industries play an important role in space innovation through integrating and augmenting resources and services, and accelerating product development timelines, which strengthens U.S. national security in space and increases USSPACECOM’s space domain awareness (SDA) and deterrence mission.

Another major theme of the panel included the integration of the commercial industry into the DOD’s processes and how to build the relationships necessary to be prepared to respond prior to conflict.

“It’ll be a balance of commercial capabilities and military capabilities,” Dickinson said. “It's a layered approach to how we absolutely integrate commercial partners into the team.”

For example, USSPACECOM integrates satellite communications at its CIC, which enables an exchange of real-time information between operators at the Combined Space Operations Center and commercial satellite partners, allowing for safe, secure and responsible behaviors in space. Separately, the JCO also incorporates commercial partners and Allies who share unclassified indications of orbital activity derived through public research, commercial SDA sensors and analytical tools.    

Vaughn said that she is looking across the commercial industry to help address some of these challenges, but also emphasized the importance of thinking through how future conflicts may present scenarios that are more “gray and confusing” and the need to train and build trust across the community now so there’s an enduring relationship in place.

“Whether it's a DOD satellite, or a (National Reconnaissance Office) satellite, or a commercial satellite, we're all in the theater together. We're all experiencing the effects together. We all have to cooperate, whether we're in the conflict or not, so it's a very different discussion about our own roles as this community that I think we need to think through.” Vaughn said.

Dickinson and Plumb said the DOD and USSPACECOM have conducted a number of exercises with commercial stakeholders to understand the importance of incorporating operators on the commercial side to synchronize effects and prepare for operations in peace, crisis, and conflict.

Plumb added the DOD is spearheading other efforts to further harness commercial space.

“My office is leading a commercial space integration strategy. That’s the first of its kind for the (DOD). That really just shows how the department has seized with getting after this, and getting it right,” he said.

One of the DOD’s top priorities in the U.S. Space Priorities Framework is to “leverage new commercial space capabilities and services and deepen integration of U.S. national security space capabilities and activities with Allies and partners.”

Space is essential to national security, as well as to global economies and the planet. Space capabilities allow humans to check the weather, look at the stock market, the news, or a traffic report from a smartphone. From a military, commercial or civil perspective space is an integral component of daily activities.

“We should be excited because space is not the next frontier – I think we're already there. It's exciting to be part of that. It's exciting to be the commander of the U.S. Space Command during this period of time and I think nothing but optimism in terms of what we're seeing in the future,” Dickinson said.

USSPACECOM, working with Allies and Partners, plans, executes, and integrates military spacepower into multi-domain global operations in order to deter aggression, defend national interests, and when necessary, defeat threats.