Time is ripe for entrepreneurs to partner with U.S. national security space groups, says Fred Kennedy

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, California – During this period of rapid change, space industry entrepreneurs should be sharing their ideas with U.S. national security space agencies, Fred Kennedy, former director of the U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA), said Oct. 9 at the Satellite Innovation 2019 conference here.

“If you think you might have some unique insight into what the national security sector might do to leverage the kinds of capabilities you have, by all means go ahead and ring them up, text them,” Kennedy said. “The time is ripe.”

In March, the Pentagon formally established SDA to develop, demonstrate and experiment with technologies and architectures aimed at leapfrogging current space systems. At the same time, the Air Force is seeking to speed up acquisition of space technologies with the Space and Missile Systems Division’s 2.0 initiative.

Kennedy compared the current environment of rapid change in national security space to opportunities created by melting seas. “You can put your boats out on the water but, at some point, the sea will refreeze,” Kennedy said. “I would hate for it to refreeze in the same configuration that it is in today.”

Prior to taking the helm at SDA, Kennedy, who formerly directed DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, was a vocal critic of the national security space bureaucracy. SDA was created because national security space is “a little risk averse, a little slow, a little expensive and maybe a little complacent,” Kennedy said. SDA was designed to disrupt the status quo like startups disrupt industries.

While Kennedy did not explicitly say why he left SDA less than five months after helping to stand up the organization, he said “in any organization, you may end up a little crosswise with your leadership over the fundamentals of how you run the organization, the level autonomy that you believe should exist, resourcing or perhaps even the amount of commercial leveraging you think should be present.”

Kennedy said that he is “a big fan of commercial leveraging” because he thinks the time is right to create partnerships between the private sector and the U.S. government “to do some pretty incredible things that would benefit the Defense Department.” Not everyone shared that opinion, he said.