The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security

Episode 4: Transforming National Security Space Acquisition Starts with Congress

United States Capitol Building at night in Washington DC

00:02 – 01:13
As the legislative branch with the “power of the purse,” Congress has a constitutional duty to shape the policy and provide the funding required for the United States Space Force to accomplish its mission.

Space, however, is an emerging domain for the warfighter – and as the Department of Defense’s newest military service – the Space Force must scale its capability at the need of speed.

To this end, the Space Force has started employing a new strategy to leverage one of the greatest historical strengths of the United States: commercial innovation.

But that – must start with Congress. 

Joining me today at The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security, is Elara Nova Senior Partner Sarah Mineiro. Sarah previously served as the staff lead for the Strategic Forces Subcommittee for the House Armed Service Committee. As a senior legislative adviser, Sarah was the primary drafter and negotiator of the Space Force and Space Command legislation. Now, she’s here to talk about how Congress – through its policy and funding – can jumpstart Space Force capability.

Ma’am, what are some of the ways that Congress – through legislative vehicles like the National Defense Authorization Act and the Appropriations Act – support the Space Force?

01:14 – 02:24
Yeah, it’s a really great question, and it’s a question that both policy wonks and budget wonks have both looked at in their respective legislative vehicles. And so for the past few years, you’ve seen a lot of talk from the authorizing committees, both on the House side and on the Senate side and reflected in the final bills – talk about the need for commercial integration into specifically space architectures and space programs. 

This is a uniquely innovative ecosystem where the United States derives an asymmetric advantage over the commercial capabilities and innovation that are coming out of the private sector, that are being leveraged for the benefit of our national security missions and intelligence missions.

And so the question then becomes both from a policy prerogative and priority standpoint, but also from a programming and funding perspective: how do we make sure that those kinds of capabilities are presented to the warfighter and the Joint Warfighter in a way that makes sense and that leverages all instruments of national power in this newfound and recognized strategic competition?

02:25 – 02:37
Space is seen as a quickly developing domain for the warfighter – one that requires rapidly evolving technologies – so how can Congress keep up to ensure that the Space Force has the capability it needs to accomplish its mission?

02:38 – 03:45
Space is one of those really interesting ecosystems within the national security system that has really outpaced the policy and regulatory framework in which it exists now. And that’s exactly actually what should be happening in an American free society. 

Private industry should be incentivized and supported in investing in capabilities that can contribute to national security missions. And the clear signaling in both the policy realm and the programmatic realm and the funding realm send strong signals to investment communities, to the private sector, to other civil space organizations and agencies that this is an area that asymmetrically can contribute to the betterment of our nation and our security by the integration and embrace of commercial technology, even if it is stretching the policy and regulatory framework that most people are used to operating within.

03:46 – 04:19
So it seems this idea of integrating commercial technology – upfront – in the DOD’s requirements is something that’s been gaining momentum recently – particularly for space-based missions. 

Two recent examples come to mind – the Victus Nox tactical response launch mission and the Space Development Agency’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. 

Let’s start with responsive launch – where the Space Force launched and fielded a space domain awareness payload within 58 hours – far ahead of the previous record of 21 days: How was the Space Force – and its industry partners – able to pull this off?

04:20 – 05:32
Yeah. So this is a great demonstration of what can happen when you align policy, programmatic funding and commercial incentives. It was clear that from a policy perspective, the authorizers were very supportive and have been for years about operationally responsive space, tactically responsive launch. Discussions were happening in the policy realm for years.

All right. You had policy authority. You had funding and funding profiles that were sustainable and were supported. And then you had industry being able to pick up on all of those signals and being able to produce a capability. And those signals were aligned across kind of all of the major components that you need to be able to present commercial capabilities to the military in an operationally relevant timeline.

And that’s exactly the kind of thing that we should continue to see in the future, hopefully for the betterment not only of launch, which is kind of a very visceral and observable aspect of space, but also all of the rest of the kinds of components that you need for successful space systems in the future.

05:33 – 05:58
Now let’s turn to the second example – the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture program for the missile warning mission. The Space Development Agency has now launched two series of its Tranche 0 satellites, with a third launch to come later this year. 

These launches demonstrate a thirty-month “order to orbit” timeline – a notably fast procurement process for the DOD. How is the SDA’s approach to fielding the PWSA program innovating the space acquisition process?

05:59 – 06:52

Yeah, I think SDA has been tremendously successful in being a disruptive acquisition agent. Quite frankly, they have used relatively traditional and well-known acquisition methodologies, but have coupled that with a drive for shorter program timelines and for deep and consistent interaction with commercial partners. As the Space Force continues to look at acquisition reform and how they do things and procure systems at the speed of need.

SDA is one of those models that will be looked at for its success, not in completely changing all of DOD acquisition, but in using the flexible acquisition authorities that DOD already has to be able to achieve mission faster with the help of commercial industry.

06:53 – 07:05
I’d like to take a step back and kind of look at these two examples together – what should the Space Force and the DOD take away from these demonstrations? Are there any lessons learned from these approaches that they can apply to other space-based programs?

07:06 – 08:01
Sure. I think one of the big common lessons there is that you need to have the alignment of your policy, your programming and commercial engagement to be able to pull all of this off and that’s really, really difficult.  

The question in the future for the Space Force will be – can they take those successes and scale that across the rest of their programs, the rest of the budgeting process, that they exist within the rest of their acquisition and contracts? 

Frank Calvelli released these nine acquisition tenants going forward.

And some of those tenants are really great and some of those tenants are taken from the examples of both responsive space and SDA and we will see in the next couple of budget cycles how successful he will be at being able to proliferate that through the system. 

08:02 – 08:12
So why is it important to take this innovative approach to space acquisition – particularly as the DOD sets out to establish its Joint All Domain Command and Control – or JADC2 mission?

08:13 – 09:47

Space should be the backbone of JADC2 and the ground and the terminals and the networks and the cybersecurity are absolutely necessary for the interoperability and for the actual operational imperative of all of that JADC2 programmatic movement that we’re seeing.

The flow of data, a significant amount of that being enabled by space-based platforms, whether it’s for intelligence, whether it’s for command and control, whether it’s comms, they flow through space networks. And so the Space Force should be the service that has an outsized voice in architecting the distribution and the security of that data. 

All of our space systems, all of the literally yottabytes of data that come down from these space-based platforms. They come down to Earth to support policy-makers, acquisition professionals and operators that are on terra firma. Ground and software have been perennially challenged programs in the Space Force.

So getting ground right is going to be vitally important especially because I also think that ground and the entry points and the networks and the terminals that are associated with ground – end up being the foundation for any of the service instantiations of Joint All Domain Command and Control and JADC2.

09:48 – 09:55
Can you provide an example of how the “space backbone” of JADC2 – as you put it – can enhance the strengths of the other services?

09:56 – 10:49
Now, what I think the rest of the services do, and they do it just exceptionally well, the Army does this exceptionally well. They understand how to get that last distribution out to that very edge node, out to that deployed soldier.

And they do a tremendous job taking space-derived data and understanding how to get it out to soldiers at need. But it’s enabled by an architectural concept that should be driven by the operational imperatives of the United States Air Force and the United States Space Force. 

This is an architectural gap that the Space Force and I will say, specifically this Chief of Space Operations, is very well-placed. General Saltzman, is one of the nation’s best thinkers about Joint All Domain Command and Control and about what that means. 

10:50 – 11:01
What are some of the more inherently important mission areas for the Space Force to develop as it continues to scale its capability? And, ultimately, what role can commercial technology requirements play in that development?

11:02 – 12:16
The Space Force has very unique requirements for space domain awareness for the missions that they want to be able to execute now and into the future. And so space situational awareness to me always ranks high because you have to know what’s going on in and around you to be able to have space operations, but also to be able to perform the missions that the Space Force believes that they’ll be doing now and executing into the future. 

That is an area ripe for commercial investment and commercial partners, not only, quite frankly, on the analytics, but also on the innovative data sets that are being brought forward by innovative U.S.-based companies. It is an area where previously everybody had assumed that there was no commercial marketplace for a space situational awareness service provider. 

That has proven to not be true. There is a commercial marketplace for that. The DOD has recognized that. Both Space Command and Space Force have recognized that. The question is: how do they ingest that? How do they use that data? And what kinds of different and new data will be presented that they can leverage for the fulfillment of specific military requirements in the future.

12:17 – 12:25
In order to integrate commercial technology effectively and deliver that capability to the joint warfighter – what role does research and development play in this process?

12:26 – 13:39

The investment in RDT&E is an investment, not just in our future, but in our current state. Research and development is literally the lifeblood of the missions and the operational imperatives that the Space Force has to be able to not just compete, but to win that competition in the future. 

We cannot afford to not be innovating constantly. We cannot afford to not be leveraging all instruments of national power in the strategic competition. We can’t afford baseline technology to just be extended into the future and one of the great things about space is that people still are tremendously excited about the potential of space, not only in the national security field, but also in the civil space field.

The lines between those kinds of technologies are blurring more every day, and that may not be a terrible thing. Those lines don’t exist at all in communist China. But for the United States, leveraging American exceptionalism, ingenuity and innovation is what’s going to help us secure our freedoms in the future. 

13:40 – 13:53
Now what about Congress? How can legislators come together – with this idea of commercial integration in mind – to continue supporting the Space Force and the DOD at this intersection of policy, funding and mission requirements?

13:54 – 14:48
It is no doubt the case that there are a lot of members there are on both sides of the aisle who want to see the Space Force succeed and want to see our nation positioned to win the strategic competition. 

And that is all predicated on members, industry leaders and executive branch personnel, being able to trust each other, respect each other’s roles, and move out in a way that supports people that are on the front lines. 

And I think that we need to look at innovation not only in the technological perspective, but I think we also need to look at investing in researching, developing and bringing forward new operational concepts. The glory of the Space Force is that it was given a tremendous opportunity and a blank page to do something that had never been done before.

14:50 – 15:36
If you’re interested in learning more about Congressional support for the United States Space Force – and the role Congress has in integrating commercial technology upfront in DOD requirements, visit our Insights page at

This has been an episode of
The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security. As a global consultancy and professional services firm focused on helping businesses and government agencies maximize the strategic advantages of the space domain, Elara Nova is your source for expertise and guidance in space security.

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