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Diversification Through Collaboration: The Key to Resiliency in Space

By Tina Ghataore | June 6, 2024

Tina Ghataore, Group CSRO Aerospacelab, CEO Aerospacelab North America (Photo by Aerospacelab)

There is a critical need for resiliency in space, and diversification is the key to achieving it. Resiliency is achieved through disaggregation, distribution, diversification, protection, proliferation, and deception. All of these present a challenge and yet an opportunity. Of these, diversification presents the most opportunities for our industry.

Diversification is imperative at all levels. It involves more than just varying primes and suppliers; it also includes incorporating a hybrid architecture with a variety of platforms, multiple orbit schemes, embracing new forms of contracting, and leveraging international cooperation. Space Development Agency (SDA) has been a shining example in contracting work that embraces new entrants, and recently released their industry invite seeking a pool of performers for their Hybrid Acquisition of Proliferated LEO (HALO). However, achieving diversification across multiple fronts will require intentional and focused change from industry partners.

Diversification of the supply base is easier said than done.

Our legacy ways of business have served us well, but they will not be the approaches we need to take to advance our capabilities. The space supply chain remains turbulent, with shortages and technical issues evolving into delays that set programs back. A popular way to overcome this is for a prime contractor to invest heavily in a few select suppliers with both time and resources. As trusted partners, these companies work hand-in-glove with the supplier and provide not only funding but also technology advancements, program insight, and risk mitigation approaches, creating a reliable robust partnership. Through this model, the supplier receives a safety net from their most important customers.

The danger of this model is that with a limited number of prime contractors investing in or acquiring one or two lower-tier suppliers for key technologies and platforms, we begin to weaken our overall resiliency. Through HALO, SDA stands to create a model similar to commercial off the shelf (COTS) parts, through the concept of commercial off the shelf suppliers. This is a base of qualified and ready suppliers that can be tapped to support critical programs and missions where delays are not an option. To incentivize this across the industry, we need to consider making diversification a program requirement beyond HALO, ensuring that that the lead incorporates not just one supplier but has planned for a stable of suppliers. This will strengthen our agility and overall resiliency for each opportunity.

Achieving resiliency through cooperation, not isolation

As someone who has spent much of her life, not just her career, abroad, I am always struck by how much countries have in common rather than their differences. This is particularly true of our space ambitions. Our goals are the same—we aim to democratize space to increase knowledge and work toward a better quality of life and security on Earth. Space Force, NATO, allies, coalition partners, and U.S. Commands across continents have emphasized that it is crucial not only to open dialogues across allied nations (by not over-classifying) about joint-operational capabilities but to embrace the criticality of sharing data. At the governmental level, diplomacy and cooperation occur, but at the industry level, it remains difficult for U.S. companies to work collaboratively with international companies on critical capabilities. To truly build resiliency into our space architecture, we need to consider how to enable international cooperation.

Diversification through collaboration

To achieve true resiliency and aid SDA in their vision for HALO, there will need to be a focus on the three I’s:

Intention – Outlining exactly what our resiliency requires through suppliers, architecture, and allied partners. This means understanding how each mission area complements the others in its design and identifying the strengths in a varied supply base.

Incentivization – Creating incentives for companies that diversify their supply base to ensure mission success. This means shifting away from the mindset that new players bring risk, but rather many players strengthen resiliency.

Inclusion – Focusing international dialogues on policies that enable interoperability and allow for collaboration across the global marketplace to fulfill the Intention.

By adopting the diversification themes of intention, incentivization, and inclusion, a robust and resilient supply chain will lead us to a proliferated LEO and an overall resilient space architecture.

Tina Ghataore is Group CSRO of Aerospacelab and CEO of Aerospacelab North America. She previously served as President of Mynaric USA. She joined Mynaric in 2020 to lead its U.S. subsidiary and head business development across the company. Ghataore has also held roles with Boeing, Yahsat, Panasonic, and the Ekkam Group. During her tenure at Mynaric, she was named Via Satellite’s Satellite Executive of the Year for 2021.