ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The US Space Force rapid development organization is on track to deliver its first system this year, a schedule that leaders say demonstrates the value of its unique role in the space ecosystem. space acquisition.
The Space Rapid Capabilities Office was created by Congress in fiscal year 2018 to develop much-needed operational prototypes as part of a campaign to accelerate space acquisition. The office received its first projects in early 2019 and is now managing 14 classified programs with the aim of making them operational within five years.
As its first projects near delivery at the end of this year and through 2023, Space RCO director Kelly Hammett told reporters during a July 23 visit to its headquarters at Air Force Base Kirtland, New Mexico that the office is meeting schedule targets and working closely with Space Force to ensure a smooth transition.
Because the programs are classified, Hammett said he couldn’t discuss them in detail.
Decision-making powers and its status as a direct reporting unit to the Chief of Space Operations, General Jay Raymond, underpin the Space RCO’s ability to act quickly. The bureau doesn’t have any special exemptions from federal acquisition regulations or, as Hammett described it, a “magic wand” to get things done faster, but it does have independence and targeted requirements.
Its Space Force partnerships are also key, Hammett said, noting that being co-located in Kirtland with organizations such as Space Systems Command’s Innovation and Prototyping Delta and the Laboratory’s Space Vehicle Directorate Air Force Research Center helps strengthen this collaboration.
Although the offices are all involved in the acquisition process, their roles are distinct. The AFRL is focused on maturing technology and has deep space science and technology expertise. Space Systems Command field operational capability. And the Space RCO provides prototypes that can be quickly transferred to the SSC program offices.
Col. Jeremy Raley, outgoing director of the Space RCO’s Strategic Capabilities Group and incoming head of the AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, said that while the lab is good at conducting experiments and proving that a technology will work, the Space RCO brings urgency and measured risk. take to the table. These niche capabilities provide opportunities to learn from each other and capitalize on each organization’s unique strengths.
“Collaboration is absolutely important,” Raley told C4ISRNET in a June 23 interview. “If we’re going to use taxpayers’ money effectively, we need to more or less split our ways and understand what each of us does and how we leverage our strengths.”
Integration rather than consolidation
The cooperation and alignment occurring between the organizations represented in Kirtland is representative of the type of acquisition system the Space Force is trying to build. One of the department’s main tasks has been to streamline the acquisition of space, long hampered by bureaucratic decision-making processes. Lawmakers have criticized the service’s progress on this front, saying they want more details on its plan.
For Space Force, streamlining does not necessarily mean reducing the number of organizations acquiring capabilities, but rather ensuring that their functions are clearly defined and integrated. For example, the service has created a Program Integration Council that includes representatives from SSC, Space RCO, Space Development Agency, Missile Defense Agency, and other organizations involved in space acquisition. The board meets regularly to discuss projects and resolve any overlaps.
Air Force Assistant Secretary for Space Acquisition and Integration Frank Calvelli, whose role was created by Congress to better coordinate space system development and procurement, said told reporters during his first engagement with the press last month that he was “pretty happy” with the organizations he inherited.
“I don’t foresee any organizational changes,” Calvelli said during the June 28 roundtable, speaking specifically about SSC, Space RCO and the Space Development Agency, which today resides in the portfolio of the Under Secretary at defense for research and engineering, but will change that to fall to Space Force.
Calvelli said that while there are a number of organizations working in space acquisition, he’s “OK with that.” Instead of targeting or consolidating, he plans to use his authority to ensure their work is integrated.
“They all have unique attributes, unique strengths, and unique authorities that are quite nice to be able to tap into,” he said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s Space and Emerging Technologies Journalist. She previously covered the US Air Force and US Space Force for Inside Defense.