SpaceWERX is the newly launched innovation driver of the United States Space Force (USSF), and it will play a pivotal role in pursuing innovative technologies for the USSF’s greatest problems. “SpaceWERX is going to be one of the key arms for innovation, driving culture change and capability development into our Department of the Air Force to ensure our Space Force has an enduring competitive advantage,” said Col. Nate Diller, AFWERX director. SpaceWERX will fall under the purview of AFWERX and will look a lot like its parent organization in structure.
How It Started
On August 19, 2021 SpaceWERX was announced to the world during Space Force Pitch Day, but the story of SpaceWERX began March of 2019 at another pitch day event…
“I was sitting there in the audience at an Air Force Pitch Day in New York with a lab engineer, with a space operator and a couple of my acquirers from my team here at LA Air Force Base, and we really enjoyed what we saw,” recounts Lt. Col Walter “Rock” McMillan, Director of SpaceWERX in a recent Introduction to the USSF and SpaceWERX webinar. After the event, the group put their heads together, and drew out their plans of how they too could leverage the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program’s Open Topic to solve some of their biggest problems within the space architecture.
Those “back of the napkin” plans laid the foundation for the very first Space Force Pitch Day, held in November 2019. The success of that event, which led to 30 companies being selected for Phase II awards, proved the viability of leveraging the SBIR program to attract commercial industry partners to innovate within the United States Space Force (USSF), and paved the way for the standing up of SpaceWERX.
So Why SpaceWERX?
“Space is no longer a non-contested environment. Our near peers are very active within the space layer, so given that, our current space architecture is approaching a point where we truly need to pivot to be able to respond to that emergent and very credible threat,” said McMillan. Considering the fact that 80% of R&D investment into the space layer is driven through commercial industry, the question became how to effectively posture programs of record to incorporate emerging commercial technology into the USSF architecture to be responsive to threats from countries like China and Russia who are rapidly building their space capabilities.
McMillan found inspiration in the way AFWERX was operating. “I was watching the AFWERX organization closely and taking a look at some of the great initiatives that they were pursuing,” he said. AFWERX, with its revolutionary approach to the SBIR program, created the Open Topic Phase I, lowering the barriers of entry for nontraditional partners. The lower risk $50K awards brought to the table many small business partners who never had the opportunity to engage with the government prior.
Just like AFWERX, SpaceWERX has three components: Spark, Ventures, and Prime.
Spark exists to help operators at the point of operation. SpaceWERX will be connecting with the delta combat development teams within each of the nine deltas to understand problem sets and pain points and truly begin to comprehend how to collaborate with the private sector.
Ventures, the component that will utilize the SBIR/STTR Open Topic and STRATFI/TACFI, houses the space related portfolio. They will leverage the AFWERX framework to continue to bring technical innovations to the warfighter on an accelerated timeline.
Prime is a push towards identified emerging commercial markets. Pioneers in key technology areas will create significant impact, increasing national security and our industrial edge. According to the AFWERX website, “In addition to funding, Prime programs will leverage other unique Department resources—like test infrastructure, certification authorities, interagency relationships, and early operational use cases—bringing the Air and Space Force’s full value proposition to bear.” SpaceWERX’s first official initiative will come out of the Prime component.
Stay tuned for more from coming out of SpaceWERX!
It’s an exciting time to see this organization get up and running. You can have a front row seat by following SpaceWERX on LinkedIn. Be on the lookout for the release of the first Prime initiative launching soon!