Cover: Commercial Space Capabilities and Market Overview

Commercial Space Capabilities and Market Overview

The Relationship Between Commercial Space Developments and the U.S. Department of Defense

Published Apr 14, 2022

by Emmi Yonekura, Brian Dolan, Moon Kim, Krista Romita Grocholski, Raza Khan, Yool Kim


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Research Questions

  1. What commercial space capabilities could the USSF and DoD leverage to achieve their policy goals?
  2. For which military applications could they use commercial space capabilities?
  3. What are the current and future development trends in the commercial space industry?
  4. What concerns might the USSF and DoD need to address when leveraging commercial space capabilities for military purposes?

The U.S. Space Force (USSF) and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) are examining and pursuing various ways to leverage commercial space capabilities as part of their policy goal to promote the U.S. space industry and their strategy for improving the national security space architecture. As the commercial space industry continues to grow in capability, capacity, and diversity, opportunities for the USSF and DoD to leverage commercial capabilities are expanding. Specifically, the USSF is considering the role of the commercial space industry in its future space architecture and the innovation ecosystem. It is faced with many choices, such as which commercial capability option to leverage or for which military application it should use commercial instead of organic space capabilities.

In this report, the authors conduct a broad review of seven commercial space sectors—satellite communications, space launch, remote sensing, environmental monitoring, space domain awareness, data transmit/receive networks, and space logistics—and characterize the capabilities and trends in each of them. The information gathered and included in this report is current as of June 15, 2020, and because of rapid changes in the commercial space industry, the authors also recommend sector-specific indicators to track future market developments.

Key Findings

  • The commercial space industry is quickly growing and changing.
  • More-established commercial space sectors (e.g., satellite communications and space launch) are growing in capacity and capability.
  • The growth and evolution of new market entrants have been driven by small satellite technologies and the proliferated constellation model, advanced manufacturing, use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and venture capital investments.
  • Among the new commercial space sectors, some will serve other commercial space operators, while other new space sectors will primarily target government customers.


  • It is important for DoD and other stakeholders to update their information about the space industry at least annually.
  • DoD and other stakeholders should track several technology-development and commercial-viability factors going forward, because these will have significant impacts on the benefits associated with future partnerships.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Office of U.S. Space Force Strategic Requirements, Architectures and Analysis (USSF S5/9) and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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