COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Space Force has a new office tasked with helping the service better integrate commercial space capabilities across its portfolio.
The Commercial Space Office, led by Col. Richard Kniseley, will replace the Commercial Services Office, which was established just a year ago. The organization will bring together several other initiatives, including SpaceWERX — the service’s technology hub — and Space Systems Command’s Front Door, an online portal companies can use to connect with the acquisition community.
The office will also lead the Space Force’s efforts to create a Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve to leverage companies’ space capabilities in a crisis. In an April 18 interview at the Space Symposium here, Kniseley told C4ISRNET he’s working to craft a framework for the program by this summer.
“We have got to get these capabilities integrated in peacetime so that the warfighter has a chance to use it, so that we can integrate them into exercises and wargames to really make it part of the architecture,” Knisely said.
In the same wide-ranging interview, Kniseley discussed his plans to expand the Space Domain Awareness marketplace — which allows companies to compete for space data contracts — to other mission areas and laid out his priorities for the new office.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When was the Commercial Space Office created and where will it be headquartered?
It was officially stood up [in April], and I’ve already started aligning the processes and the offices. The actual headquarters for the Commercial Space Office will be in Chantilly, Va.
In fact, in June, we’re opening up our Commercial Collaboration Center in Chantilly, and it’s this perfect sweet spot to have it because it’s right next to the National Reconnaissance Office. It’s right near the Space Development Agency, you have NASA nearby along with other mission partners. But also it’s in a good sweet spot of industry as well.
Just having it out there is going to be a benefit to all of us because at the end of the day, I look at this commercial space office as a collaboration amongst everybody. And we were already building those relationships with NRO as well as the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency — understanding what contracts they had available so that we’re not recreating contracts, but we could tap into those other areas with the appropriate funding and the requirement from the warfighter.
What are your initial priorities in the Commercial Space Office?
Some of them are a little early on, but from a strategic standpoint, transitioning the Commercial Satellite Communications Office away from the Defense Information Systems Agency. Right now, organizationally, it is under the Space Force, but we are still utilizing DISA for contracting. To make this office work, we’re standing up a working capital fund, which we are anticipating by the end of September.
That’s going to allow us to really get after those other mission areas going forward. What we’re doing with DISA is anything that is ongoing or if they were already in source selection, we’re letting those go through. But soon new procurements, those will be actually coming through the Commercial Space Office contract.
When it comes down to the commercial space office, the biggest thing I want to do is make deliberate investment in commercial that’s just really going to get after what the warfighter needs. Because the feedback I’ve gotten from the commercial entities is they want to get involved. They want to be good partners. It’s really all about a partnership. And the way to do that is to really show that you’re deliberate in building that. The best way to do it is through investments. So, aligning contracts and aligning the right funding to do this.
How will your efforts be funded? Will that come from the program offices you’re working with?
I look at my office to do a lot of the execution. I will be looking at the program executive offices — and I think this is even coming down from Space Force leadership — to look at their mission areas to really understand . . . how mature is the market right now? And also figuring out what are those inherently government missions or capabilities that need to be built in house and what can commercial take on today?
The way I look at it, especially with this conflict that’s coming [with China], we have got to get these capabilities integrated during peacetime so that the warfighter has a chance to use it, so that we can integrate them into exercises and war games to really make it a part of the architecture. You don’t want to try and do that while you’re in conflict. This is the time to do it so that if a crisis, heaven forbid, ever kicks up, you know it’s there and you know how to use it. And it becomes almost part of your lexicon.
The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit works closely with companies and program offices to help get commercial technology to the warfighter. How will your office collaborate with DIU?
We talk constantly on many different issues. I’ve been working with them on their hybrid space architecture, and some of the companies that are a part of that capability. And really, I see so much utility in some of the capabilities that can help us get after so many things that we’re trying to do. So I’m working on one effort right now to get them hooked up to the Naval Research Lab testbed, so that we can really prove out that capability. And then I think a lot of these are going to migrate to a live demo.
So, you would be connecting DIU’s hybrid space architecture with the NRL testbed?
I’m connecting certain pieces of it.
How is your office engaging with companies? And what feedback do you hear from them about impediments to working with DoD?
As I grow out the Commercial Space Office, one thing that we’ve done extremely well in my mind in the Space Force and definitely in Space Systems Command is to have industry engagements. We had 11 last year, which is huge.
We started with space-to-space communications in February of ‘22, and we had one almost once a month. That’s where we’ve been having a lot of conversation about our mission areas and posing our problems to them and, through a reverse industry day model, getting their feedback.
I plan to continue those. We mentioned the [artificial intelligence/machine learning] day in May. We’re going to do alternate positioning, navigation and timing in June. I think there’s gonna be a weather one because I see that as a big area that, why wouldn’t we go commercial?
Where I see industry getting frustrated is that there’s been talk, but they want to see action. They want to see deliberate integration and funding in commercial and getting those capabilities to the warfighter. So that is definitely what I’m going to challenge my team on and that’s where I see success — contracts and funding and capability delivery.
Where is some of this commercial integration happening already within the Space Force?
We talked about the success of the commercial SATCOM office. I mean, that’s about $1 billion dollars per year that executes through that office. I would like to do more with the Space Domain Awareness (SDA) marketplace, which is going to come under my office. There’s areas that I’ve got in my head of making it more of an investment in commercial while still ingraining that character and the discipline that we want out of the companies.
The work that’s being done with [U.S. Space Command’s] Joint Commercial Integration Office (JCO), that is actual operators utilizing that commercial capability — that is huge right there. That commercial capability is being brought in to utilize by operators and our allies alike.
I want to create other marketplaces for other areas so that I can almost replicate that SDA model and get it out to the JCO and start doing that type of stuff. If the warfighter has a requirement, I can throw it into that marketplace and have the competition there and then quickly get that capability out.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.