In an “extremely contested” environment like space, leveraging commercial innovation is key to resiliency.

That was the bottom-line message this week from three senior officials at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the U.S. Space Force, and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

“Space is definitely an extremely contested environment and it’s only getting more so. That’s true not only for government systems operating in space, but for our commercial systems as well,” Pete Muend, director of the Commercial Systems Program Office at the NRO, said during a webinar hosted by INSA.

“The cyber domain is probably one of the things that we worry most about. Certainly, there’s the counterspace things, but there’s also all the cyber threats that we worry about,” he said.

“There’s lots of different ways that we try to approach the problem. A big part of it is just diversity. That’s certainly true of a government system – we’re proliferating in our government classified assets and satellites up in space,” Muend continued. “But a big part of that, too, is appropriately leveraging our commercial partners and their satellites and their capabilities in space as part of a larger diversified hybrid architecture.”

NGA’s Acting Director of Commercial Operations, Frank Avila, emphasized that collaboration and communication are key when it comes to working with industry.

“Collaboration with our industry partners is key – and communication. It’s key as we both proceed in this contested environment, from a pressing threat perspective,” Avila said. “Space underpins our national security and ability to respond decisively to crisis around the world.”

“Communication between us and our industry partners is going to be key as we proceed in this new sort of environment that we find ourselves in,” he said. “Diversifying and increasing resiliency – that’s one of the reasons why NGA is really looking at the totality of different solutions that our industry is providing today, not only from space systems, but also analytical solutions that fuses all of that information.”

NRO’s Muend highlighted three areas that the intelligence community is looking toward the commercial sector for help with when it comes to space: providing threat information, anomaly investigation and response, and collection strategies.

The U.S. Space Force’s Acting Deputy Director for Space Systems Command’s Commercial Space Office, Jeremy Leader, emphasized that the nation’s policy shift to help U.S. industry growth has been key in collaborating with the private sector.

“We’re not just buying commercial for the sake of buying commercial, it’s about speed of delivery and increasing that resiliency for the capabilities that we provide,” Leader said. “A lot of the policy considerations that are being relooked at and changing on a much faster pace that ensure that we’re not hamstringing our own industry is huge.”

“It’s multi agency and I’m just excited to see what the future holds,” he concluded. “I look forward to keeping our finger on the pulse of what industry is doing and maintaining this rhythm of industry engagement, so we can make better decisions not only is the Space Force but as an interagency.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.