Space Force chief technologist hints at future plans to build a digital infrastructure

By Sandra Erwin,
Published by SpaceNews, 13 January 2022

Lisa Costa was appointed chief technology and innovation officer of the Space Force in September 2021

WASHINGTON — Lisa Costa, chief technology and innovation officer of the U.S. Space Force, said the service is eyeing investments in edge computing, data centers in space and other technologies needed to build a digital infrastructure.  

“Clearly, the imperative for data driven, threat informed decisions is number one, and that means that we need computational and storage power in space, and high-speed resilient communications on orbit,” Costa said Jan. 13 at a virtual event hosted by GovConWire, a government contracting news site. 

Costa was appointed CTIO of the Space Force in September 2021. She was previously director of communications systems and chief information officer of U.S. Special Operations Command.

She said the Space Force has a long-term vision of being a “digital service” and is now laying out a strategy to invest in “the right infrastructure for a competitive and contested domain.” 

A key goal of the Space Force is to be agile and “outpace our adversaries,” said Costa. Timely and relevant data is imperative, and that will require investments in government-owned and in commercial infrastructure in space, she added. “Things like cloud storage, elastic computing, critical computation for machine learning, infrastructure in and across orbits.” 

She noted that the Space Force has to do a better job communicating its needs to the commercial industry and to universities that are developing many of the technologies the service is seeking.

Edge computing and data management in orbit are growing market segments in the space industry. Onboard computing allows satellites to process data they collect and perform autonomous decision-making and tasks faster than if the data had to be transported to a server on the ground. 

Space Force guardians need these capabilities so they can analyze data using machine learning and artificial intelligence, Costa said. “AI is incredibly important in space. So where are we going to do that processing?” 

Having space-based orbital computational power is “really critical so we don’t have to download massive amounts of data to ground stations to do processing, and then upload the information,” she said. “So help us figure out the best ways of processing information, and getting it to the decision makers.”

A digital infrastructure that can move data quickly “is absolutely imperative because of two primary factors: the nature of the threat and the size of our Space Force, which is quite small.”

“We are the only U.S. military service that was established during the information age,” said Costa. “And so the Space Force has this unique opportunity to be born digital. And we’re seizing on that opportunity.”

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