SAIC increases space startup collaboration

Space

COLORADO SPRINGS — Defense contractor SAIC, fresh off its $2.5 billion acquisition of Engility, plans to increase its collaboration with startups to further grow its presence in the space sector.

SAIC completed its Engility purchase in January, growing its portfolio of software-intensive space services.

Josh Jackson, executive vice president and general manager of SAIC’s Solutions and Technology Group, said SAIC is working with around a dozen space startups through accelerators in Austin, Texas, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, to make their technology more available to U.S. government customers.

Within the next six months, SAIC plans to choose a third location where it will team with more startups, he said.

“We are looking at where else should we tap,” Jackson said in an interview at the 35th Space Symposium here. “It’s a geography thing. We are tapping into geographies where it makes sense from a customer as well as a capability standpoint.”

Jackson cited Austin’s strength in analytics, machine learning and augmented and virtual reality as reasons for SAIC’s interest in that location. SAIC’s Austin partner is Capital Factory, an organization that works to pair startups with investors, customers and mentors. In Colorado Springs, SAIC partnered with Catalyst Campus, being drawn in by the region’s space activity, Jackson said.

“These are one and two person companies that have some niche technology,” he said. “That’s the value that the government is seeking now: how to tap into that true entrepreneurial spirit that exists across the country.”

SAIC is evaluating Los Angeles, Boston, and the Silicon Valley area as prospects for its third startup hub, Jackson said. He declined to name any of the startups SAIC is working with. 

“Our goal is to understand the landscape of emerging technologies that could be applied to government missions, and then help be that bridge between those government mission challenges and the emerging technologies that are starting up,” he said.

Jackson said SAIC is increasingly focused on digital engineering, creating “virtual representations of systems,” such as satellites and their corresponding ground infrastructure, to shorten development times and improve sustainability when in use. That includes designing with an awareness of cybersecurity risks from the beginning, rather than retroactively introducing cyber features when threats become apparent, he said.

“When you think about the proliferation of smallsats and cubesats, the number of nodes in space is going to increase exponentially,” he said. “We need to think about how to protect those from the very beginning.”

Jackson said 97 percent of SAIC’s revenue comes from federal government customers, such as NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and the Missile Defense Agency. He said that revenue mix is unlikely to change in the near future, since SAIC intends to stay focused mainly on federal government customers.

“We’ll stay close to our roots and who we are as a company,” he said.

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