The U.S. Air Force is beefing up the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office to help the 11-year-old organization improve its ability to quickly develop urgently needed space capabilities, service Secretary Heather Wilson said May 17.

The Air Force is adding about 50 people to the office, which is based at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Wilson testified before Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel. As of last fall, the office had fewer than 40 military, civilian and contractor employees. 

Orbital's Minotaur IV launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Aug. 26, 2017, carrying the ORS-5 space-tracing satellite. Photo: Orbital ATK.
Orbital’s Minotaur IV launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Aug. 26, 2017, carrying the ORS-5 space-tracking satellite. Photo: Orbital ATK.

The Air Force is also picking a new director for the office. The new leader will have “a background that we think will be a good fit for an organization that’s very high-performing and that connects with what’s going on in commercial industry,” Wilson said.

The changes are meant to go beyond provisions in the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization act that call for the ORS to be renamed the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO) and for its leader to report to the recently upgraded Air Force Space Command.

“We don’t want to just change the name,” Wilson said. “We want to change the way in which the new Space Rapid Capabilities Office does its work.”

Wilson made her comments in response to questioning from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who in past years has worked with other lawmakers from his state to protect the ORS from elimination.

Udall said the ORS has been “at the forefront of developing small-satellite technology for national defense.” He urged the Air Force to give the Space RCO the ability to “tap into the creativity and risk-taking culture of the private sector” and “the budget and flexibility it needs to make quick decisions to innovate and ensure fast access to space.”

Wilson said the Space RCO will be able to participate in the Space Enterprise Consortium, a $100-million fund that the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center recently set up to draw on innovative work done by private firms. Wilson said that 100 companies have shown interest in participating in the consortium and that the consortium recently awarded its first two contracts, which are for small satellites that will be placed in geostationary orbit.