Since its establishment in 2017, the U.S. Air Force's AFWERX initiative has been a catalyst for innovation within the Department of Defense (DoD). It's goal is to bring together industry, academia, and military to develop solutions to problems identified by the Air Force and the newly created Space Force. This article provides an overview of AFWERX and its relevance to the emerging space economy.
AFWERX: A Brief Overview
AFWERX is a dynamic program designed to foster innovation within the U.S. military. It is an innovation arm of the U.S. Air Force, launched with a primary objective to connect innovators and streamline the process of bringing innovative ideas and technologies to the U.S. Air Force.
AFWERX operates under three mechanisms – AFVentures, Spark, and Prime. AFVentures focusses on partnerships with small businesses to solve problems. Spark facilitates a culture of innovation within the rank and file of the Air Force. Prime, the most recent mechanism, identifies and grows nascent technology sectors that can benefit both commercial and military applications.
The Importance of AFWERX in the Space Economy
AFWERX's relevance to the space economy comes to the fore when we look at the expanding domain of space exploration and exploitation. The space economy, often referred to as the “NewSpace” industry, represents a shift towards commercial entities contributing significantly to space exploration and services. It includes sectors such as satellite communication, Earth observation, space travel, and in-orbit services, among others.
The emergence of this industry offers a plethora of opportunities and challenges. The primary opportunity lies in economic growth and the advancement of technology. The challenges include ensuring secure access to space, dealing with space debris, and maintaining the peaceful use of outer space.
Here's where AFWERX's role becomes pivotal. Through the Prime initiative, AFWERX can help the growth of the NewSpace industry. By recognizing and nurturing innovative space technologies, AFWERX helps bridge the gap between military requirements and commercial interests. This is important in an era where the lines between commercial and military space are increasingly blurring.
AFWERX and Space Prime
To cater specifically to the space economy, AFWERX launched the Space Prime program. This initiative is set to align the technology needs of the U.S. Space Force with the capabilities of commercial space entities. The program seeks to capitalize on advancements in the commercial space sector while also ensuring that the Space Force has the tools and technology it needs to maintain U.S. dominance in space.
Space Prime is looking at a variety of technology areas, including space transportation and delivery, space domain awareness, space-based solar power, and on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing. This initiative is likely to spur innovation, facilitate knowledge transfer, and foster a symbiotic relationship between the Space Force and the commercial space industry.
Future of AFWERX and the Space Economy
AFWERX, through its mechanisms, is set to play a crucial role in the growth of the space economy. By creating a synergy between the needs of the military and the offerings of the commercial sector, it allows for accelerated development of innovative technologies and solutions.
Moreover, AFWERX's focus on public-private partnerships promises to enhance the sustainability of the space economy. It is well poised to nurture a competitive industrial base that can help the U.S. maintain its leadership in the space domain.