Air Force Research Lab Pushes New Space Force Tack on Hybrid Architecture
WASHINGTON — The Air Force Research Laboratory’s new space-focused technology executive expects the science and technology community to play a key role in helping the Space Force accelerate its shift toward more hybrid, resilient architectures.
The lab in November named Andrew Williams its deputy technology executive officer for space science and technology — a new job meant to improve integration across its air and space portfolios and to ensure the lab has a single point of contact for space S&T.
Williams told C4ISRNET in a recent interview one of his top priorities is to support the Space Force as it moves to a more distributed, resilient space architecture that combines traditional Defense Department systems with emerging space technology, integrates more commercial capabilities and operates in more orbits.
“The science and technology that’s going to enable that architecture resiliency is really the key — and making sure that we innovate and deliver on faster timelines to support that,” Williams said.
For AFRL, the immediate focus will be less on hardware and more on building a software foundation that uses autonomy, machine learning and data fusion to help the Space Force make faster, more informed decisions.
Some of the work to improve software development has been spurred by the lab’s partnerships with the Catalyst Campus — a Colorado Springs-based hub for industry collaboration and innovation — and the Space Force’s software factories in Colorado and California, Williams said.
On the hardware side, near-term AFRL experiments like Navigation Technology Satellite-3 and several space domain awareness projects will focus on augmenting current space and ground architectures with new technology. NTS-3, set to launch in 2023, will showcase new positioning, navigation and timing capabilities that could be integrated into future GPS satellites.
While new priorities often carry a price tag, Williams said the pivot toward these new enabling technologies won’t necessarily equal “absolute growth” in AFRL’s space portfolio, and he isn’t expecting major budget increases to support the shift. Instead, the lab will likely move away from some areas where it has invested in the past and will pursue more cooperative research agreements with industry and academia.
The lab’s four Space Force units will also look to leverage the efforts of other AFRL directorates doing multidomain work in areas like cyber, machine learning, networking and artificial intelligence. This type of integration work, Williams said, was a major driver for creating the D-TEO for space.
“It’s my role within AFRL to make sure that we are harvesting those technologies that can be used for space capabilities and transferring that technology and delivering it to the Space Force, because a lot of the work that we do is multidomain,” he said.
As an example, Williams highlighted the sensors directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, which has been working on data fusion challenges that have implications for the Space Force and the Air Force. The information directorate at AFRL’s Rome Laboratory in New York has been doing similar multidomain work in cyber and networking.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.