Space Force procurement chief emphatic about the ‘need for speed’

Frank Calvelli said traditional contracts where the government bears the risks and pays for cost overruns will no longer be acceptable.

WASHINGTON – Frank Calvelli, the Air Force assistant secretary for space acquisition and integration, told an audience of space entrepreneurs that he is trying to instill a sense of urgency in military procurement.

“I want to move quickly in buying the space,” Calvelli said Dec. 6 at a TechCrunch Space event in Los Angeles, where he was interviewed by Tess Hatch, vice president of Bessemer Venture Partners.

Procurement agility is an imperative Calvelli discussed in an Oct. 31 memo, where he laid out nine Principles of space appropriation.

“I think the threats against our systems posed by Russia and China are now too great,” Calvelli said.

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These countries are developing anti-satellite weapons that are expected target American systems in a future conflict. In response, the United States is working to establish Widespread satellite networks that would be harder to disrupt and cheaper to build than traditional military satellites.

The United States today has a “magnificent architecture that the Department has built over decades for missile warning, missile tracking, navigation and precision timing, satellite communications and space domain awareness,” Calvelli said.

“These are fantastic systems,” but most of these satellites are very large, he added, and “we put a lot of things in geosynchronous orbit. So there is not much diversification of our systems.”

“And when you look at the threat, you look at how important space is, not just to the warfighter, but to the American economy. It’s really important that we drive our architecture to have some resilience, and that will be through diversification, diversification of orbits and proliferation of satellites,” Calvelli said.

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He said he wrote the nine principles because “I really, really want to go faster.” The “old way of doing business” was to spend a decade developing large satellites. “We have to change that paradigm and do things much faster.”

Message to industry

Calvelli also wanted these principles to serve as “my message to the industry” that traditional contracts where the government bears the risks and pays for cost overruns will no longer be acceptable.

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He said future satellites will follow the guidelines of the Space Development Agency, which has ordered hundreds of satellites under fixed-price contracts. The agency is procuring a large constellation of missile tracking and data satellites in low Earth orbit.

Calvelli encouraged space startups to continue to innovate and take advantage of DoD seed funding programs offered by organizations like SpaceWERX and the Defense Innovation Unit.

“Keep driving the technology and bring those ideas forward,” Calvelli said. At TechCrunch, some vendor displays that caught his eye were about virtual reality systems that simulate the space environment, electric propulsion for satellites, and satellite refueling in space.

“Keep pushing the envelope in space,” Calvelli said.

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