WASHINGTON – The US military’s reluctance to accept a growing commercial market for small satellite launches could undermine its space supremacy over the next decade, according to the Atlantic Council.

IN report published on May 5, the think tank focused on international security and global economic prosperity says the defense ministry has failed to take advantage of commercial space services, despite advances in small-scale satellite technology that have made them more accessible and capable.

“There is an established culture that ignores legal mandates ‘in the first place’ and this behavior is becoming increasingly detrimental to national security interests,” the report said. “Over the past decade, this negative culture has eroded US space supremacy and will continue to do so as the world moves toward rapidly evolving and deployed low-cost commercial space systems.

Spacecraft weighing less than 1,200 kg are usually characterized as small satellites. Commercial space companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are expected to launch more than 20,000 satellites over the next decade, which will significantly increase capabilities and traffic in orbit. Growth is largely fueled by technologies that allow for lower launch costs, mass production of satellites and increased spacecraft processing power. And the feature has an application for the needs of the DoD and intelligence community, including communications, imaging and navigation.

This technological advancement has positioned commercial space opportunities to play a much greater role in the national security sector, including the war in Ukraine. The search for satellite images and data to give an idea of ​​Russia’s movement on earth has highlighted the importance of trading systems.

The report argues that the commercial space industry will play an increasing role in global space security and argues that Congress and the Biden administration must work together to ensure that the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies adopt a “buy first” strategy. commercially. “

“Congress should order the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to conduct a study to identify national security missions that can be carried out through the commercial space,” the report said. “Congress must then set aside funds for these commercial services. This action will require a transition to commercial space services, ensure stable funding for the commercial development of small satellites and stimulate space innovation through competition.

The report also recommends that the Department of Homeland Security conduct a study to determine whether space systems should be considered a sector of national critical infrastructure, and suggests that DoD, the State Department and the Ministry of Commerce step up diplomatic efforts to establish international standards of conduct. in space.

While calling for changes in policy, doctrine and acquisition processes, the report acknowledges that both the Department of Defense and the intelligence community have made some progress in recent years toward integrating small satellites and commercial space capabilities into their constellations. For example, a key premise of the Space Defense Agency’s National Defense Space Architecture is that the widespread constellation of small satellites in low Earth orbit adds resilience to the wider network of DoD satellites in a number of orbits.

The space force last year launched a new commercial space effort called SpaceWERX to invest in startups and small businesses developing new space technologies. The service has also adopted prototyping as a tool to demonstrate the usefulness of commercial technology and is developing new ways to acquire systems faster.

The intelligence community has made significant investments in commercial imagery, with the National Intelligence Service spending about $ 300 million each year on these services to support military, environmental, and disaster response missions.

Courtney Alban is a C4ISRNET reporter for space and new technologies. Previously, it covered the US Air Force and the US Space Force.


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