State of the Space Industrial Base: Threats, Challenges and Actions

Space Division

The Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Innovation Unit has released a white paper titled State of the Space Industrial Base: Threats, Challenges and Actions. This paper focuses on conveying the importance of establishing U.S. space dominance, identifies major threats to establishing and maintaining that position and seeks to propose solutions to ensure we are on the right path forward.  The paper makes three suggestions for developing a space industrial base that will establish U.S. dominance in space: (1) upgrade methodologies, (2) develop more U.S. markets to allow for risk-spreading and to attract investors, and (3) change the government’s procurement and licensing processes that slow down space capabilities.

The paper presents the issue of establishing dominance in space as an urgent matter. Echoing concerns cited by the Executive Order 13806 report, this study emphasizes the need for a healthy domestic, manufacturing and defense industrial base and trusted supply chains.  As the need for global information gathering and communication continues to increase, so will the demand for increased space capabilities. Space-based sensors used for global information gathering are less susceptible to corruption and degradation than terrestrial, cyber, air, or maritime sources. In order to upgrade our methodologies and to outpace adversaries, the paper points to the need for a strong space industrial base to provide large portions of “critical civil and military capabilities.”

To maintain space superiority, the paper sets out several goals that the space industrial base and the government should be working towards. These recommendations include:

  • developing and maintaining a wide range of service providers;
  • strengthening the defense of space systems by increasing number and complexity of assets;
  • the development of a space capabilities commodities exchange to promote risk-spreading and greater investment;
  • making the procurement process more efficient with a heavy focus on long-term capabilities;
  • taking immediate action against those who threaten U.S. space dominance;
  • continuing to reduce launch costs and risks;
  • and, be the first to support and exploit the transition from geosynchronous (GEO) to large-scale lower Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.

While some of these goals must be advanced by the government and the organic industrial base, others fall squarely on the shoulders of the growing space industrial base. China is racing for a seat at the space-powers table and recent successes like germanium mining, refining, and production, high efficiency solar cell production, and the predatory discounting rates of ExPace – a Chinese commercial space launch company – show a clear desire to compete with America in space. Overall, this study seeks to be a call to action, highlighting areas that need improvement and presenting recommendations for how to maintain a dominant position in the newly developing space domain.

Topics: Space, Industrial Base

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