Space Force gets its own ‘werx’ innovation center

The chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force displays the service’s uniform nametapes in the Pentagon Jan. 17 in Arlington, Virginia. (U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Robert Barnett)

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The year-old Space Force will have its own rapid acquisition center to work with private sector companies to field new technology for military applications, Air Force leaders say.

The new unit, dubbed SpaceWERX, will field commercial technology into Space Force’s growing tech portfolio, as the AFWERX program does for the Air Force.

It’s fitting Space Force will get its own “werx” unit, since it will rely heavily on commercial technology to carry out its mission, says Will Roper, head of acquisition, technology and logistics for the Department of the Air Force which houses Space Force.

“This is not Space Force’s first foray into the world of commercial technology and commercial investment, but it is time for us to formalize their roll,” Roper said at the virtual AFWERX Accelerate summit Monday.

Space Force was created in 2019 to preserve the security of space and space-based assets like satellites — operations that rely on tech ranging from cybersecurity tools to space launch vehicles.

‘AFWERX West’

SpaceWERX will officially be housed in Los Angeles under AFWERX and also called “AFWERX West.” The new office’s commander will be Lt. Col. Rock McMillan, the chief innovation officer of Space Force, Roper announced.

The Los Angeles Air Force Base is also home to the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the Space Force’s DevSecOps coding unit Kobayashi Maru. Space Force has hosted Pitch Day events in the past that have given private, often small companies access to quick contracts and Roper said that SpaceWERX will offer more opportunities year round. Los Angeles has a long history of aeronautics companies, and is home to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“We really should have done this years ago, because your team of rockstars have done amazing work in commercial innovation in space,” Roper said during the AFWERX event while speaking with Lt. Gen. JT Thompson, who runs SMC.

As the newest military branch, Space Force has placed emphasis on “digital fluency” in its ranks, requiring new recruits and transitioning officers to take online courses in coding and other technology basics. That fluency is needed since so much of their work will be based in ever-changing technology systems, leaders have said. With SpaceWERX, the services hopes to see even more emerging technology come through the doors.

Large tech companies have already seen the potential in the space business. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure have launched space-focused business lines for their cloud offerings. The Space Force has also inked deals with Palantir for processing its data.

“SpaceWERX is going to help us continue to take advantage of that rapid growth” in the space economy, Thompson said.

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Afwerx, Air Force, Air Force Pitch Day, Innovation, Rock McMillan, space, Space Force, Will Roper
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