CHANTILLY, Va. — Within a few days of establishing a marketplace for commercial companies to provide surveillance and tracking data to military users, the Commercial Space Office received its first tasking from U.S. Africa Command.
The U.S. Embassy in Guinea contacted the combatant command in late May to help identify the origin of a chemical spill that was impacting its fishing industry. AFRICOM reached out to the office, which then turned to its pool of commercial surveillance, reconnaissance and tracking companies who used data garnered from satellites to identify the source.
“With commercial SRT data, we actually [narrowed] down that culprit from 350 ships down to five,” Col. Richard Kniseley said. “And we think we’ve already found out who that culprit was.”
Kniseley is the senior materiel leader for commercial space within the U.S. Space Force’s acquisition hub, Space Systems Command. He leads the nascent Commercial Space Office, which it established in April to bring together a number of the service’s initiatives aimed at partnering with companies and helping military users better leverage commercial space capabilities.
During a June 6 briefing at the opening of his office’s new Chantilly, Virginia, headquarters — dubbed the Commercial Space Marketplace for Innovation and Collaboration — Kniseley told reporters he wants to expand the marketplace concept that allowed his team to quickly respond to Africa Command’s tasking to other mission areas.
The service has already established a Space Domain Awareness Marketplace, which works with U.S. Space Command’s Joint Commercial Integration Office to provide space observation data to operators and allies. Future marketplaces, according to Kniseley and other Space Systems Command officials, could include missions like overhead persistent infrared, weather and alternate positioning, navigation and timing capabilities that could augment the Space Force’s GPS constellation.
While these commercial marketplaces are just one way the Commercial Space Office is looking to better leverage industry systems, SSC Commander Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein said in a speech at the new headquarters they’re a key part of the push to support operators and international allies by linking them to the capabilities they need on rapid timelines.
“When we connect our partnerships into an operational environment, the opportunities are endless,” he said.
While the Space Force operates its own satellite fleets in many of these mission areas, the service is trying to change its mindset from a build-first approach that is heavily reliant on military-owned systems to a buy-first posture that emphasizes the many commercial products already available.
The creation of the Commercial Space Office, according to Guetlein, reflects that shift and aims to provide the acquisition structure and leadership to support it. Kniseley’s role, he noted, is the first time Space Systems Command has had a senior materiel leader focused on commercial space acquisition.
“He is a board-selected individual by the United States Space Force to lead our guardians in what I believe is going to be one of the key missions going forward,” Guetlein said. “That was our commitment to getting that started.”
As SSC establishes its organizational infrastructure for commercial acquisition, it’s also working with Space Force and Defense Department leaders to create a more stable funding source for the effort.
Within its annual budget, which grew to $30 billion in fiscal 2024, the service allocates about $4 billion on commercial capabilities, Guetlein said.
“That’s a sizeable amount of money. When we look at how much it could be, it’s just a drop,” he said.
That commercial funding is tucked within program offices rather than consolidated under one budget line, which can make it hard for the service and industry to see what commercial services and systems the Space Force is buying. Creating a single program element for commercial capabilities would help the companies SSC works with “see where we are serious about getting after that partnership,” Guetlein said.
When it comes to working with combatant commanders, SSC is also crafting a business model that it expects will make it easier for military users to get the space capabilities they need, he said.
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.