Why Even The CIA Is Investing In Commercial Space
The CIA is the next organization in a line of many to invest in commercial space. This U.S. intelligence agency is just the latest in a string of government organizations that are looking to adopt cutting-edge commercial tools and technologies to augment the capabilities of their highly classified spy satellites. In order to do this, they have turned to the private sector to find – and buy – these ideas.
Private Sectors and Government Programs
This need for outside contracts comes after a push from Congress to make more use of commercial satellites. To meet this, intelligence officials are beginning to award new contracts to the private sector. With increasingly sophisticated services available from the private sector, Congress is pushing for intelligence agencies to move quickly. In fact, this year’s version of the Senate’s Intelligence Authorization Act contains provisions to increase spending on commercial satellite programs.
Space Force is also getting in on the commercialization of space. Responsible for the military’s Space Surveillance Network of telescopes, radar, and software analytics for detecting, tracking, and characterizing space objects, Space Force will begin relying on more commercial services. To get there, the US Space Force will set up a single office to assess and secure commercial services, ranging from traditional satellite communications to satellite imagery.
In addition to these two government sectors, the House Armed Services Committee has taken a stance that the Defense Department must also begin relying more on commercial space services. This comes on the heels of complaints that DoD experimental programs, like the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2), haven’t invested in commercial launch vendors. The HASC statement includes language for the commercial on-orbit servicing on military satellites, as well as using commercial firms for rapid turn-around launches of small payloads.
And if the expansion of government satellites with greater abilities seems worrisome to you, don’t be. The majority of it is to be used for national security and protection. In one recent example, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency awarded a $10 million contract to HawkEye 360 to track and map radio frequency emissions around the world. This information will help with identifying weapons trafficking, foreign military activity, and drug smuggling.
How Will Commercialization Help The Government?
The commercialization of space comes down to capabilities, cost-effectiveness, and security measures. Generally speaking, the capabilities of government satellites are closely guarded secrets, built from impressive technology. Current and former congressional officials note that the government designs and operates some of the most cutting-edge, purpose-built technology. But by contracting with commercial companies, the government would be able to supplement the needs of the CIA and its mission, which is the collection and analysis of intelligence for national security, in a more affordable and accessible way. To put it in perspective, government-built satellite technology can cost upwards of $1 billion, while commercially-built tech can be in the millions. So with commercial parts from the private sector, the CIA will be able to cover more of the world, while reducing the workload of important government satellites.
Aside from creating more affordable, accessible technologies, space systems that combine both government-built and commercial systems look to be much more resilient than a single source one. This combination is a key part of the strategy at the National Reconnaissance Office, the intelligence agency in charge of many of the government’s most classified spy satellites. With growing threats to our advantage in space and in our nation, a diversified system like this is essential to US national security.
Motiv + Commercial Space
While much of this proposed commercialization is still working its way through the congressional approval process, independent companies are still forging ahead with their own commercialization initiatives. Focusing on making commercial spaceflight more cost-effective and capable, Motiv’s robotics products provide dependable, accessible solutions for both public and private space missions. One example of this is their xLink arm, which is engineered to provide assistance with everything from on-orbit assembly and satellite servicing to space exploration. Modular and totally customizable for any space mission, products like the xLink allow for the same robotics architecture to be deployed across different platforms. This flexibility means less integration time and a higher return on investment, particularly for government entities.
All in all, this surge in commercialization does promise a better, safer, and more accessible future for both the US – and space exploration. And with so many companies engineering innovative solutions for this new era of space, the government has a lot of options to choose from.