AFWERX outlines future opportunities to accelerate innovation

SpaceWERX launch drives AFWERX small business focus on universities and on-orbit capability

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – On August 19, SpaceWERX will officially launch. The kickoff will include a virtual Space Force Pitch Day highlighting the key partnership between the Department of the Air Force and small businesses by awarding up to $34 million to innovative startups competing for Small Business Innovation Research Phase II contracts. At the launch, SpaceWERX will also announce key initiatives to jumpstart the fall campaign.To join the SpaceWERX ecosystem click here.

As a part of AFWERX, SpaceWERX will play a vital role in pursuing innovative technologies for the United States Space Force. The Department’s newest innovation arm will create platforms for space operators, lab engineers, and acquisition professionals to collaborate with the brightest minds in academia and industry pursuing novel solutions. Moreover, SpaceWERX will continue to leverage proven AFWERX tools such as the SBIR Open Topic, Challenge platform, STRATFI initiative, and Prime program.

This fall, AFWERX will jumpstart key SpaceWERX initiatives by offering a Phase I Open Topic Small Business Technology Transfer solicitation focused on space technologies. This effort will team small businesses with university researchers focused on space to simultaneously build the workforce and develop cutting edge space technologies. Open Topics allow companies and researchers to propose technology solutions they believe would benefit the warfighter even if the USAF or USSF has not issued a specific SBIR/STTR topic seeking a solution. The 2020 AFWERX AFVentures report shows the notable returns on investment using this approach as well as the ability of this program to bring in over one thousand new companies to work with the DAF.

Phase I SBIR/STTR contracts provide small businesses threshold funding values to develop concepts, test feasibility, and identify potential DAF customers. With Phase II agreements, companies with feasible concepts can receive additional funding for prototyping through research, development, test, and evaluation based on user needs. Beyond that, STRATFI/TACFI agreements help bridge the capability gap between Phase II efforts and Phase III scaling efforts, to facilitate delivery of strategic capabilities. Between the AFWERX Agility Prime and AFWERX AFVentures program synergies, small businesses were able to go from $50,000 contracts to more than $40 million contracts in one year.

In 2020, the AFWERX STRATFI program had 18 partner companies. This year, 161 capability packages were submitted requesting $421 million in SBIR/STTR funds. This request was leveraged against $440 million in non-SBIR government funds and $492 million in private investment. The STRATFI program just released its largest contract award in its history. This $60 million jointly funded effort with Hermeus Corporation will help accelerate hypersonic technology. The next solicitations for the STRATFI/TACFI program will open again in early 2022.

These tools will be key to Space Prime, officially scheduled to begin later this month. Space Prime will pursue a nascent technology sector that, if “primed” by SpaceWERX engagement, could advance U.S. national security and economic prosperity. Space Prime will utilize the STTR Open Topic process as one of many means to advance space technologies. Last year, the Agility Prime focused STTR achieved record participation and will provide a model for the Space Prime STTR solicitation.

“We’re particularly excited about Space Prime,” said Lt. Col. Walter McMillan, SpaceWERX Director. “Space Prime is our strong signal to academia, industry, investment, interagency, and international partners on a specific mission area where we aim to energize the space industrial base and develop on-orbit capability in an accelerated timeline. We are targeting operational capability in two to four years.”

“Like our inaugural Prime program, Agility Prime, Space Prime will use the full suite of our AFWERX tools to hone in on specific mission and technology areas to truly move the needle on delivering on-orbit capability,” said Lt. Col. Tom Meagher, AFWERX Prime lead.

Col. Nathan Diller, AFWERX director, stated, “By focusing the AFWERX team on space and universities, we expect to continue to deliver the highest returns on taxpayer investment in national security and small business innovation. This focus means AFWERX will not be participating in the broader SBIR/STTR 21.3/C solicitation cycle, but will return with many new innovations to the small business programs in early 2022.” Learn more about the Air Force SBIR/STTR program at


AFWERX, as the innovation arm of the Department Air Force and a directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory, transitions agile, affordable, and accelerated capabilities by teaming innovative technology developers with Airmen and Guardian talent. AFWERX has three key components: AFVentures, Spark, and Prime. AFVentures expands the defense industrial base for advanced technologies, Spark empowers Airmen and Guardian talent, and Prime drives transition to operational capability. By teaming across academia, industry, investment, interagency, and international partners, AFWERX expands technology, talent, and transition of innovative capabilities.


The SBIR program was established by Congress in 1982 to fund research and development (R&D) by small businesses of 500 or fewer employees. Eleven federal agencies participate in the program, including the Department of Defense.
The STTR program was established in 1992 to fund cooperative R&D projects with small businesses and non-profit U.S. research institutions, such as universities. Five federal agencies participate, including the Department of Defense. Both programs focus on projects and services with the potential to develop into a product for military or commercial sectors.

About AFRL

AFRL is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit:

Accelerate launch

AFWERX outlines future opportunities to accelerate innovation

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – AFWERX Accelerate wrapped-up a weeklong virtual event featuring 179 speakers and 7,000+ registrants with discussions on the six new Prime sectors (energy, game, autonomy, supersonic travel, space and microelectronics), a statement on the newest AFWERX hubs, an announcement on next year’s Prime program and news regarding 2021 opportunities for collaboration.

“Space is the place for our Prime programs in 2021,” said Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. While the specific area of space technology is yet to be determined, Roper said he “can’t wait to see what AFWERX and SpaceWERX do to create the next revolution in commercial technology, but driven by military missions.” He also hinted there “may be room for more than one [Prime] next year.”

Roper discussed the overwhelming feedback from the AFWERX community that supports “bringing the Prime methodology into space,” outlining the commercial investments and emerging markets that . . . “could be helped by new warfighting missions being championed by the Space Force.” He noted that, “just as we’ve seen in Agility Prime, where our Air Force missions and our airworthiness processes are unlocking a new electric vertical takeoff and landing market for the U.S., our Space Force missions and our space worthiness processes, have a chance to do the same.”

AFRL Commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle called AFWERX Accelerate “a jam-packed exciting week” featuring “Airmen and Space Professionals excited about innovation and the work they are doing.” She referred to the event as “a great way to close a very challenging year” and said her new year’s resolution now involves “aligning the energy and excitement, and frankly, the sense of urgency around the opportunities that are out there to really bring this to bear for our warfighters.”

The five-day virtual event included various keynotes, chats, workshops, networking opportunities and panel discussions focused on AFWERX’s efforts to accelerate collaborative capability development, emerging technology trends and innovative problem solving for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force.

“One thing that is very true about innovation is that you don’t do it alone,” Roper said. “You need a broad partnership of amazing collaborators and innovators to get to the goal line.”

To accelerate collaborative capability development, AFWERX is establishing relationships with a breadth of industry, investor, interagency, and international stakeholders. These partnerships often focus on nontraditional stakeholders to accelerate the collaborative fielding of novel capabilities using risk mitigation.

“We must have a broad network of partnerships if we’re going to compete against the adversaries we face in the world today at the speeds at which we must compete,” said Roper.

During Accelerate, a virtual audience learned about successes in 2020 and new partnership opportunities for 2021 as AFWERX highlighted industry, investment, interagency and international innovators, as well as those disrupters across the military.

“Innovation inhabits the DNA of the U.S. Air and Space Forces,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “Now AFWERX unites the creativity of AFVentures, Spark Innovators, and Agility Prime with the expertise of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Every day we celebrate our partnerships, and we welcome new pace-setters who are inspired to help protect the nation.”

On Dec. 7, AFWERX announced the formation of SpaceWERX, a new entity near Los Angeles Air Force Base that will focus on technologies for the United States Space Force.

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said she is thrilled to “celebrate the opening of the first space-focused innovation hub” so close to the first anniversary of our newest Service, the United States Space Force.”

“The global space economy continues to grow at rapid rates, and SpaceWERX is going to help us continue our momentum,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and program executive officer for space. “The goal is “to expand the space industrial base by guiding additional partners, leveraging commercial investment, and rapidly pursuing new space technologies that could be game changers for our space warfighters.” He affirmed, “SpaceWERX will help ensure that Space Force can tap in to those cutting-edge space technologies.”

On Dec. 8, the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program announced the release schedule for Fiscal Year 2021 open topics. Day two also featured presentations on AFVentures, a division of AFWERX that supports commercial investments for the Air Force, creating pathways to connect ideas with resources.

“AFVentures leverages commercial technology to deliver better capabilities to warfighters faster,” said Jason Rathje, AFVentures managing partner. “We are committed to becoming a preferred partner for small business technology development.”

Rathje outlined new opportunities under the Supplemental Funding Pilot Program, a “game changer” that aims to strengthen key relationships, bridge the gap between Phase II and Phase III scaling efforts and deliver “strategic capabilities that meet the department’s needs.”

On Dec. 9, AFWERX invited Airmen and Space Professionals to apply for a new fellowship program and work in one of its three divisions or in private industry. For more information, please visit:

General Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Commander of Air Force Materiel Command describes this opportunity as a great way to “increase the training of Airmen so they can more effectively collaborate with our commercial industry partners as we look to build these partnerships and move forward.”

Diller noted the “opportunity to join the AFWERX team is open to all ranks from our youngest Airmen to senior members of our enlisted and officer corps.” He explained that this fellowship aims to show talented individuals how to “move from idea to capability.”

AFWERX Agility Prime announced a series of milestones Dec. 10 for its “flying car” program, featuring the ground-breaking of an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVOTL) simulation facility as well as a ribbon cutting ceremony for the electric aircraft charging station, both at Ohio’s Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, near Wright-Patterson AFB, home to AFRL and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center headquarters.

“Agility Prime is about creating a new path to adopt advanced technologies in the Department of Defense, working with innovative companies and driving new markets,” said AFWERX Director Col. Nathan Diller.

On Dec. 11, Roper also announced the opening of Dayton DigitalWERX, a new innovation hub at AFRL’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Center of Excellence in Dayton, Ohio. He referred to Dayton as a “mecca of Air Force acquisition” since “many Program Executive Offices sit on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base along with the Air Force Research Laboratory.” By “having DigitalWERX off-campus, we can bring in innovators and support the broad mission the Air Force and the Space Force has.”

AFRL’s Executive Director Jack Blackhurst explained that “the ability to use AFWERX, now part of the AFRL team, will add more fuel and really act as a catalyst for Gen. Brown’s and Gen. Raymond’s vision for a digital Space Force and Air Force.” Blackhurst noted that, “as one lab serving two services, AFRL takes great pride in its ‘heritage of innovation’ and looks forward to addressing future challenges.”

In May 2020, AFWERX transitioned to AFRL under the Air Force Materiel Command.

AFWERX is now hiring and would like to hear from you. If you think you might be a good addition to the AFWERX team, or if you just have an idea you would like to collaborate on, let your voice be heard by visiting or, where recordings of the Accelerate event are also available.

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, including AFWERX, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit:


Established in 2017, AFWERX is a product of the Department of the Air Force, directly envisioned by former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. Her vision of AFWERX — to solve some of the toughest challenges that the Air Force faces through innovation and collaboration amongst our nation’s top subject matter experts. AFWERX serves as a catalyst to unleash new approaches for the warfighter through a growing ecosystem of innovators. As a part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX and the Department of the Air Force are committed to exploring viable solutions and partnerships to further strengthen both our space and air forces, which could lead to additional prototyping, R&D, and follow-on production contracts.

Fast Company named AFWERX Best Workplaces for Innovators on the 2020 List, honoring the top 100 businesses and organizations that demonstrate a deep commitment to encouraging innovation at all levels. AFWERX, the Department of the Air Force’s innovation arm and catalyst for fostering innovation within our space and air forces, came in at #16 ranking in the top 20 alongside brands such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon