Space Systems Command Seeks (and FUNDS!) Workforce Innovation

  • Published
  • By Lisa Sodders, SSC Public Affairs
Some of the best, most innovative ideas come from Space Systems Command’s (SSC) own workforce and, this month, “Fight Tonight” and “Spark Tank” are two innovation competition opportunities to submit those ideas for funding consideration. Both are part of SSC’s “Summer of Innovation” campaign and the deadline to submit ideas for both competitions is Aug. 23.

“Our nation’s space systems are under perpetual threat and Space Systems Command is fighting back,” explained Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, SSC Commander, who established the Fight Tonight program last year. “In our race to resilience, we are tapping every avenue of innovation to put fresh ideas on a faster track. That’s the driver behind this competition. What do our operators -- our joint warfighters -- need if we have to “Fight Tonight?”

The “Fight Tonight” competition is open to all military and civilian SSC members and is focused on solutions aligned to the critical U.S. Space Force mission of ensuring a secure space domain for all. Proposals should be based on actionable ideas that can be implemented in a one-year time-frame, and directly align to with the field command’s strategic intent to exploit its current resources, tap the commercial marketplace to buy what is already available; and build when a commercial or allied solution is not a viable option.

“The goal of the Summer of Innovation is to streamline the innovation process across the command,” said Capt. Erin Lindsey, Chief of Business Innovation for SSC’s AtlasX organization, which is administering the “Fight Tonight” and “Spark Tank” competitions on behalf of SSC’s Commander. “There is innovation occurring constantly around SSC; we want to use the Summer of Innovation as a focal point to harness these efforts and direct ideas to the annual competitions where they best fit.”

The top five ideas for Fight Tonight will be pitched to SSC and Space Operations Command leadership in late-October, and the most impactful and innovative ideas for funding will be selected. The winning Fight Tonight idea has the potential for up to $8 million in funding.

Fight Tonight submissions require operational endorsement to help ensure SSC will deliver what meets their operational needs.”

“If you are putting forward an idea for your program, and you’re an acquirer, you would have to talk to a warfighting counterpart in SpOC who would use that weapon system and make sure they’re on board with your idea. So there’s endorsement on both sides,” Lindsey said.

Last year, more than 80 actionable ideas were submitted to the inaugural “Fight Tonight” competition. Of those, three ideas were selected for funding: first place went to the idea of using machine learning for more effective and efficient missile detection. Two ideas received honorable mention: one using local area networking for greater alignment of space sensing plans for warfighter needs, and one focused on using space-based computer simulations for advanced readiness training.

“Spark Tank” is the Department of the Air Force's annual showcase event in which selected Airmen and Guardians pitch innovative solutions to difficult Air and Space Force problems needing Senior Leadership support to succeed. It has been held annually since 2018, and is produced by the Secretary of the Air Force (Management) in cooperation with AFWERX, a Technology Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Because “Spark Tank” is an Air and Space Force-wide competition, “the solutions that do well tend to focus on the difficult problems at the bigger Space Force, Air Force level,” said Nate Thuli, Future of Work advisor with SSC’s AtlasX Business Innovation team. “Solutions are ultimately pitched to senior Department of the Air Force leadership, offering a valuable opportunity for SSC personnel to be recognized.”

Entries from SSC have done well in past years – including a submission by Space Sensing’s Michael Dolan, a DAF finalist last year with his Real-Time Asset Management System (RAMS).

“AtlasX is here to support SSC’s personnel and make sure they’re aware of and have access to the channels to share their depth and breadth of knowledge, passion, and collaboration,” Lindsey said. “Our team helps harvest that SSC innovation to utilize at its greatest capacity while also strengthening the bond between the warfighters (operators) and the space system acquirers. If you have a good idea, our AtlasX team is here to offer a process for you share it and have it seen by leadership and more importantly, receive feedback. We want to make sure the capabilities SSC is providing to the warfighters are what they need and make the most sense in terms of effectiveness and affordability.”

It can be easy for people to get mired down in day-to-day operations, particularly in the hectic world of military acquisitions, Lindsey said. Competitions like Fight Tonight and Spark Tank are a good way to encourage people to be innovative and apply what they know to address challenges.

But Lindsey added, “Competition is just a vehicle to stir up that innovative spirit. The competition should not outshine the ideas themselves. The real winners here are our joint warfighters and our national security in and from space who benefit from the innovations.

Military and civilian personnel will find plenty of resources and help on SSC’s internal Sharepoint site, where they also can find links to submit their entries.

AtlasX innovation coaches also are available to help innovators refine their pitches, and they are hosting collider events where members can share their ideas with other innovators and receive feedback to further improve their concept.

“You don’t have to go it alone and the more you put your idea out there for others to collaborate and iterate on, the more refined and better your idea can become,” said Keith Lawton, AtlasX Business Innovation coach at SSC.

“Some members may have hesitancy to put forward an idea in a competition format,” Lindsey said. “But AltasX can help to take ideas, no matter how small, and shepherd them to a place where it makes the biggest impact.”