CHANTILLY, Virginia. Within days of establishing a market for commercial companies to provide surveillance and tracking data to military users, the Commercial Space Office received its first assignment from US Africa Command.
The US embassy in Guinea contacted combatant command in late May to help identify the source of a chemical spill that was affecting its fishing industry. AFRICOM contacted the bureau, which then turned to its pool of commercial surveillance, reconnaissance and tracking companies that used data collected by satellites to identify the source.
With commercial SRT data, actually [narrowed] down that culprit from 350 ships down to five, Colonel Richard Kniseley said. And we think we’ve already figured out who the culprit was.
Kniseley is the senior material leader for commercial space within the U.S. Space Forces acquisition hub, Space Systems Command. He leads the fledgling Commercial Space Office, established in April to bring together a number of service initiatives aimed at partnering with businesses and helping military users make better use of commercial space capabilities.
During a June 6 briefing at the opening of his Chantilly, Va., headquarters dubbed the Commercial Space Marketplace for Innovation and Collaboration, Kniseley told reporters he wants to expand on the marketplace concept that allowed his team to respond quickly assigned to Africa Commands for another mission the areas.
The service has already established a Space Domain Awareness Marketplace, which works with the US Space Commands Joint Commercial Integration Office to provide space observation data to operators and allies. Future markets, according to Kniseley and other Space Systems Command officials, could include missions such as airborne persistent infrared, weather, and alternative positioning, navigation and timing capabilities that could augment the space forces’ GPS constellation.
While these commercial marketplaces are just one way the Commercial Space Office is looking to better leverage sector systems, C-Sec Commander Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein said in a speech at the new headquarters that they are a part of the drive to support international operators and allies by connecting them to the capabilities they need quickly.
When we connect our partnerships in an operational environment, the opportunities are endless, he said.
While the Space Force operates its own fleets of satellites in many of these mission areas, the service is seeking to change its mindset from a build-first approach that relies heavily on military-owned systems to a buy-first stance that emphasizes numerous commercial advantages products already available.
The creation of the Commercial Space Office, according to Guetlein, reflects this shift and aims to provide the acquisition structure and leadership to support it. Kniseley’s role, she noted, is the first time Space Systems Command has had a senior material leader focused on commercial space acquisition.
He is an individual selected by the United States Space Force board of directors to lead our Guardians in what I believe will be one of the key missions going forward, Guetlein said. This was our commitment to start.
As SSC establishes its organizational infrastructure for commercial acquisition, it also collaborates with Space Force and Department of Defense 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 in commercial capabilities, Guetlein said.
This is a significant amount of money. When we look at what that could be, it’s just a drop, she said.
That commercial funding is hidden in the program offices rather than consolidated into a budget line, which can make it difficult for service and industry to see what commercial services and systems the Space Force is purchasing. Creating a single element of the commercial capabilities program would help the companies SSC works with see where we’re serious about going after that partnership, Guetlein said.
When it comes to working with combatant commanders, SSC is also working out 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 reporter for space and emerging technology. She has covered the US Army since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. You reported on some of the Department of Defense’s most significant procurement, budget and policy challenges.
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