The Air Force in April opened a new data exploitation Laboratory with the goal of fostering innovation by providing space-based infrared (IR) data access to a broad industry and academia base.

Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

Col. Kerri Mellor, deputy division chief of Air Force Space Command’s (AFSPC) remote sensing directorate, exploitation capabilities division, said Friday the Laboratory is called the Tools, Applications and Processing Lab, better known as TAP Lab. Mellor said TAP Lab, located in Boulder, Colo., provides a sandbox for developers to try out the “unimaginable” with the data before transitioning the most promising capabilities to operations at Buckley AFB, Colo., or elsewhere.

TAP Lab, Mellor said, creates an environment for innovation and reducing development cycle times for new operational capabilities. Mellor said some challenges being tackled in TAP Lab include architectural structures, algorithm development and processing new software applications for threats.

Mellor said TAP Lab’s foundation is an open framework architecture that makes it fast and easy for developers to plug in their algorithms and software packages. Mellor likened TAP Lab’s open framework architecture to a modern cell phone framework that allows users to download applications on the fly.

The open framework data processing construct, Mellor said, allows rapid research and development to operational capabilities with on-ramps in support of battle space awareness and environmental mission areas. The Air Force is starting TAP Lab with an environment classified secret, but she said the service intends to not only create an unclassified capability as soon as possible for outreach to academia, but also create higher classification levels as necessary.

Mellor said the Air Force wants TAP Lab to encourage developers of all varieties, including academia and firms that have not previously won defense contracts, to try out innovative ideas and products using government data and its open framework. She said since opening, TAP Lab has hosted several developers who are already on contract for new processing techniques.

According to a Aug. 6 broad area announcement posted on Federal Business Opportunities (FBO), the Air Force has $6.2 million available ($3 million in fiscal year 2016 and $3.2 million in FY ’17) for contract awards for this BAA call. Individual awarded contracts are anticipated to range from $250,000 to $1 million with contract value not limited by any specific amount other than budget available and government determination of project priority

Funds available in future years for BAA awards are currently projected to increase by approximately 30 percent per year, though this is subject to change. For this BAA, solicited research includes, but is not limited to: algorithm Improvements, data storage and dissemination, user experience and data fusion.

TAP Lab in early August released a call to industry for funding ideas with over 76 white papers submitted. Mellor said ideas submitted included detecting dimmer targets using infrared and weather sensor data to assess ice conditions in the Arctic to help provide ships with better information. She said another idea covered ideas on improved data dissemination techniques.

Mellor’s remarks came at a Peter Huessy breakfast series event on Capitol Hill.