Government Agencies Leverage Growing Commercial Space Capabilities

Orbital Reef space station concept for NASA contract. Credit: Blue Origin

Article: NASA, Space Force see growing opportunities to use commercial space services (’s Sandra Erwin reports on the TechCrunch online panel discussion held on 2 November 2021, where NASA and Space Force representatives discussed the future of commercial space opportunities for the government agencies. NASA chief economist Alexander MacDonald discussed the commercial competition to develop a space station to replace the International Space Station, in addition to commercial launch services, LEO operations and services providers, and even commercial lunar landers. MacDonald said “we found the commercial capabilities are able to move at speeds, while the government programs maybe not always can.” Meanwhile, Space Force vice chief of space operations Gen. David Thompson discussed the expanding acquisition of commercial space services for military applications saying “We really do have to break the mold, think differently and understand and recognize we can incorporate more commercial services.”

While there are certainly huge advantages to expanding the use of commercial capabilities for government agencies like NASA and the Space Force, including a reduction of cost and speed to market driven by competition, it also brings new challenges. From a space systems cybersecurity perspective, the attack surface to NASA and Space Force systems increases. Rather than attacking NASA systems, for example, a nation-state actor interested in destabilizing confidence in NASA could now attack SpaceX, Blue Origin, or Sierra Space or any number of new commercial space companies that provide services to NASA. The reverse is also true – where a nation-state actor may not have been interested in a company before, now that company may need to consider the implications of a larger number of threat actors that may be interested in their systems. This is a challenge that government and private sector space operators will need to discuss and implement action to address in the coming years to mitigate the risk as more commercial space capabilities are deployed.