January 5, 2022
Rogan Shimmin is a Technical Program Manager and Senior Engineer within DIU’s Space Portfolio. Prior to joining DIU, Rogan worked at NASA Johnson Space Center performing mission safety analysis for the Orion space capsule. Rogan also spent time at NASA’s Ames Research Center where he led a small satellite team. In his spare time Rogan is a rescue combat systems officer for the 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Field, California. Rogan was recently invited to participate in the second round of astronaut selection for the European Space Agency. He is eagerly awaiting the results.
Why were you interested in working at DIU?
Through my experience working on government-owned, government-operated systems at NASA, I quickly learned that there are certain expectations we have for commercial solutions that are somehow missing within government development—the most obvious example being intuitive and responsive user interfaces. I was frustrated by the tendency within government technology research programs to spend years producing a widget, only to then put that widget on a shelf to gather dust. In contrast, commercial solutions are driven by a commercial demand, which propels them across the valley of death and into production. DIU presented an opportunity for me to help shift the government's mindset, while also getting out of my lab and seeing all the super cool stuff everyone else is doing!
What is your favorite DIU experience?
I was able to see DIU in action by taking “field trips” with the team to watch the space portfolio’s technology from simulations to rocket launches. Of course these opportunities have slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that gave me the chance to get deep into my biggest project yet, the Hybrid Space Architecture, which I believe has the potential to transform our space connectivity.
If you could solve any DoD problem tomorrow, no matter how big, what would you tackle and why?
While I have many personal (but widely shared) frustrations with issues such as the recruitment and retention, stovepipes, and the pace of traditional DoD acquisitions, I believe the biggest issue DoD faces right now is climate change. More chaotic weather will pose an increasing national security risk, due to reduced food security, increased migration, more energetic natural disasters, and heightened tensions between nations. Interestingly, this problem is easily solvable through a combination of existing technology and policy, making it a perfect case for DIU.
What emerging commercial technologies are you most excited about?
I'm a space nerd, so the rapidly falling costs of launch and on-orbit assembly, tied to the expansion of ubiquitous broadband communications in space, are finally leading the human race to become the space-faring species we imagined in the 1960s. Meanwhile, the advent of more efficient and cleaner batteries, biofuels, and hydrogen storage, generated by renewable energy sources, will provide abundant energy for sustained growth while allowing new carbon sequestration technologies to restore our own planet to its pristine legacy.
What are you reading right now?
I am currently re-reading an old favorite, "Failure is Not an Option," by Gene Kranz, the legendary flight controller of the Apollo program. Every other chapter I jump to "Screw It, Let's do it!" and "Losing my Virginity," autobiographies by Sir Richard Branson, the founder of one of our portfolio companies Virgin Galactic.
What defense challenge/commercial solution are you working on right now?
The Hybrid Space Architecture project intends to link every satellite with high-speed internet, reducing satellite imagery latency from days to minutes. Applications range from troops identifying nearby threats to rapid response of firefighters in the California wildfires to catching dark ships illegally dumping oil. The "space internet" will provide broadband data to austere forward operating bases, isolated ground troops, and aircraft on long flights over open ocean (particularly useful for my rescue flights with the 130 Rescue Squadron). This connectivity further enables situational awareness between units engaged in combat and the mission operations center.
If you could go back in time and work with DIU to solve a problem you experienced in the military, what would it be?
A cyber officer recently said to me that we don't have planes, ships, and tanks anymore: we have computers that fly, computers that sail, and computers that drive. Industry has long since established standards for hardware modularity and software usability. Our flying, sailing and driving computers ought to be updated as easily as a Tesla downloading its software patch over the cellphone network every night, instead of the rare, expensive and laborious software update process I have experienced on HC-130J Combat Kings..
You have one foot in the private sector and one in DoD; what surprises you about the skills that do or do not translate between these worlds? What commercial best practice would you like to see the DoD adopt?
My biggest surprise moving from the private sector into DoD was discovering how resigned everyone is to antiquated technology, bloated bureaucracy, and burdensome regulations. Military bureaucracy has installed far too many layers between the acquisition of technology and the end-users that any attempt to improve the process feels futile. While regulations are designed to ensure the responsible use of taxpayer money on large programs of record, they also have the tendency to make folks the government more risk-averse. As any commercial entity would tell you, the risk of doing nothing is usually far worse than the risk of doing the wrong thing. Technology acquisitions need to adopt a more commercial process for assessing risk; bureaucracy needs to be pared down as if the CEO had to justify every hierarchical layer to the shareholders (taxpayers) instead of the board (Congress); and every regulation needs to carry a rationale, to justify when it may be disregarded and when it needs to be eliminated.