Pentagon’s CTO pushes commercial partnerships in space

Undersecretary of Defense Heidi Shyu, the agency’s head of research and engineering, told a crowd at the 39th Space Symposium that the Pentagon needs to lean more heavily on commercial innovations in orbit to keep pace with rivals Russia and China.

This year, the Defense Department rolled out a new commercial space strategy that allows closer contractual ties to commercial space services, allowing the military to call upon commercial satellites for national defense. The strategy includes communications, intelligence and imagery services that can be quickly obtained.

“This strategy seeks to align the department’s efforts to drive more effective integration of commercial space solutions into defense operations,” Shyu explained.

Shyu oversees entities including the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, which seek to develop game-changing technologies.

The main driver for commercial space services is a new generation of threats to American military satellites, most of which were designed during the Cold War.

“Russia and China have both increasingly intensified the militarization of space, especially over the last decade,” she said.

Threats include antisatellite weaponry, which makes older, larger military satellites enticing targets in wartime.

Commercial satellites, the bulk of which are small spacecraft in low Earth orbit, offer an alternative for the Pentagon, and deliver a degree of safety in increasing congested and contested orbits.

“By leveraging the expertise and agility of commercial space companies, combined with DoD’s understanding of threats, the department can rapidly evolve to stay ahead of adversaries,” Shyu said.