The Pentagon’s renewed emphasis on space as well as the creation of the United States Space Force is driving up demand for commercially produced technology. AFWERX, an Air Force technology accelerator, is reacting by opening new doors for the space entrepreneurs. “We consider space as a quickly developing sector,” stated Jason Rathje, CEO of AFWERX’s AFVentures investment arm.
AFWERX will build a subsidiary named SpaceWERX in the following months. It expects to start a new platform called Space Prime to promote promising innovations’ commercial viability further. AFWERX has several projects aimed at attracting more space startups as well as commercial companies, including Space Prime. It’s focused on Agility Prime, which is a project AFWERX funded in 2020 to accelerate the demand for vertically taking off and landing electric-powered drones. AFWERX awarded about $40 million to six firms by Agility Prime to produce prototypes.
The government will have both financial and technological assistance for developments that are deemed strategically relevant through Space Prime. The aim is to locate inventions that are on the verge of being economically feasible that could benefit from any government assistance. For example, selected businesses may gain access to testing facilities and be mentored on regulatory and contracting procedures.
Officials said up to $100 million could be spent in Space Prime during the next year during a recent AFWERX webinar. “Smart spacecraft” is one of the groups being examined for Space Prime support. Autonomy, low-power data transmission onboard spacecraft, sophisticated propulsion, and trusted cybersecurity are all indicators of those capabilities.
AFWERX is in a role to help address chicken-and-egg issues with initiatives like Space Prime. According to Megan Crawford, investors would be reluctant to finance such developments before the government is interested, who works as the managing partner of venture capital company SpaceFund, who spoke at the AFWERX webinar. She listed the disposal of space debris as an example. That is an illustration of a skill that the private sector might fund if the government offered rewards.
General John Raymond, the director of the United States Space Command, has called for government-commercial alliances as a means to tap into private industry funding to get nascent technology related to national security to the market. Raymond shared his passion for commercial space developments by saying, “I’m pumped for it.” He said the space sector is investing in technology that it will use to its benefit.
According to a new survey by the investment capital firm Space Capital, institutional investors pumped $5.7 billion into 80 space firms in the fourth quarter of the year 2020, taking the overall amount invested in the year to $25.6 billion. According to Space Capital, since the year 2010, $177.7 billion has been invested in 1,348 space firms.