As you may be aware, the 2020 National Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 2500) recently made its way through the House Committee on Armed Services. With some space-centric NAICS codes, such as 517410 (Satellite Communications), seeing a 134%+ increase in small business participants in the last decade, how the U.S. approaches the final frontier should be on the mind of many small business government contractors. It definitely was on the mind of the Committee on Armed Services.
The 2020 NDAA did not contain much substance on “Other Space Matters” before going before the Committee on Armed Services. If you review the document, you will see that almost the entirety of “Other Space Matters” under Title IX, Part II was added by the Committee. The same goes for “Space Activities” under Title XVI, Subtitle A. These additions contain several nuggets that we want to bring to your attention.
Remember that as of this writing the 2020 NDAA is only in draft form. It is likely that some changes will be made as the bill progresses through the House and Senate.
First, Sec. 921 establishes United States Space Corps under the Air Force. This is not the Space Force that the President talked about just over a year ago. In fact, the Space Force is notably absent from the 2020 NDAA. Once created, the Space Force will be its own branch of the armed services. The Commandant of the Space Corps, in contrast, will still report to the Secretary of the Air Force. Of particular note to small businesses that currently pursue acquisitions under the Air Force, Sec. 922 directs “all functions, assets, and obligations of the space elements of the Air Force” to transfer to the Space Corps. Congress’s intent is that Space Corp will eventually exercise its own acquisition authorities.
Second, Sec. 1605 details a “prototype program for multi-global navigation satellite system receiver development.” If the substance of this program aligns with the title, then opportunities may start showing up under the SBIR program. For the unfamiliar, the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) encourages small businesses to engage in research and development projects. SBIR operates in funding rounds of progressively greater value. The Air Force has awarded more than 1,500 SBIR contracts in the last three years, and I would expect Sec. 1605 will result in many more.
Third, Sec. 1606 calls for development of “commercial space situational awareness capabilities.” This effort appears to expand on the proposed satellite regulations I recently wrote about, which is looking to limit the impacts of future space debris. Sec. 1606 looks at current abilities to “detect and track space objects in low earth orbit below the 10 centimeter threshold.” With an increasing number of small businesses engaged in satellite communications procurements, it is likely that Sec. 1606 will have an impact on a number of them.
Fourth, and finally, Sec. 1608 calls for the development of “resilient enterprise ground architecture.” This section focuses on ground-based architecture that supports all space operations. The goal is to transition to a service-based platform with a focus on commercially available capabilities and technologies. The intent of this transition is to increase the flexibility and adaptability of the Air Force by focusing on commercially available capabilities and technologies. Moving to a service-based platform will likely open the door to a plethora of new small business opportunities.
As of June 21, the 2020 NDAA is on the House calendar for a vote. In the wild west that is D.C. politics it is very likely that the current version will not be identical to the version the President signs. We will keep you updated of any major changes along the way.
Regardless of your thoughts on this current bill, remember that our democracy affords us the right to make our voices heard. If you have thoughts or concerns about this bill we encourage you to reach out to your local Representative or Senator and let them hear you.