AFWERX to Launch Four Challenges to Accelerate Space Innovation

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The Air Force’s innovation group is crowdsourcing some of the pain points in the space domain.

AFWERX, the Air Force’s nascent innovation-accelerating startup, will soon roll out four separate challenge activities to expedite tech-driven solutions that will transcend planet Earth.

The accelerator recently unveiled plans to host separate events in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on March 4 and 5 to formally launch four “emerging and unique” space-focused challenges. Though the first day is limited solely to federal insiders, the second will be open to the general public. The four challenges will encompass: global space transport and delivery; space asset resiliency; persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and [Defense Department] commercial space partnerships.

“We're calling on all space operators and members of the space enterprise to articulate your pain points to help shape our outreach for these challenges,” officials wrote in the invite directly to Defense Department insiders. And for industry and academia stakeholders, officials added “this meeting will be a valuable opportunity ... to hear directly from end-users and customers, enabling you to shape your submissions for the upcoming challenges effectively.”

AFWERX refers to its challenge process in the announcement as an “innovative crowdsourcing method” that aims to entice nontraditional vendors to solve the most pressing problems across the Air Force. 

Through the Global Space Transport and Delivery challenge, AFWERX aims to produce “a space resupply and delivery system” that could eventually deploy items to any location on Earth. “We're thinking beyond the status quo and exploring what is possible with space transport—that means we're not limiting ourselves to simply moving packaged items,” officials wrote. “Can we deploy humans where they need to go and make the most agile force possible? Can we set up a space resupply system that can efficiently and accurately drop packages, supplies, and equipment to specified targets? These are the questions we are asking.”

Challenging environments across outer space also make it difficult to develop much-needed equipment and assets. Through the Space Asset Resiliency challenge, AFWERX aims to enhance the survivability of those critical resources. 

Another challenge will focus on accelerating technological solutions that could establish “a comprehensive Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance system.” And through the Commercial Space Partnerships Challenge, AFWERX said it aims to identify commercial space tools and services that already exist and can be easily added to its present toolbox. For this challenge, the main question officials hope to answer is “What commercial data sources, ground systems, launch, rapid reconstitution, satellite technologies, data, and multilevel security are available or can be developed to supplement military capability?”

AFWERX officials held workshops for the challenges late last year, and they will go into much greater detail regarding each at both meetings in early March. On both days, the meetings will also be recorded for individuals who are unable to attend in person.