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Microsoft director with intelligence background will lead the White House’s space council

Chirag Parikh, senior director for Microsoft’s Azure Space, will lead operations for Biden’s space council

Key Speakers At The Satellite 2020 Conference

The White House’s core space policy body will be led by Chirag Parikh, a veteran intelligence official and senior director for Microsoft’s space-based cloud services, Vice President Kamala Harris announced on Monday. Harris, chair of the National Space Council, tapped the seasoned national security official to lead the council’s day-to-day activities as the Biden administration sees global competition mount in space.

Parikh’s appointment, coming three months after the White House confirmed Harris would chair its space council, gets the ball rolling for the Biden administration’s coordinated priorities in space. Harris aims to put “her own personal stamp on the council” that could include a heightened focus on cybersecurity for space assets and ways to leverage satellites in Biden’s push to fight climate change, senior administration officials said in May.

In 2017, the Trump administration revived the space council, which had been disbanded since 1993, four years after it was formed by George H. W. Bush. Parikh will succeed Trump’s space council executive secretary Scott Pace, whose space policy directives sought to craft standards of international behavior in space and retooled an Obama-era space exploration program into a commercial-focused sprint to land humans on the Moon, what’s now called the Artemis program.

Parikh served two years as deputy national intelligence officer for science and technology for the US intelligence community, and later led the National Security Council’s space policy wing for six years under the Obama administration, when the National Space Council was defunct. Before his appointment to helm Biden’s space council operations, he was a senior director for Azure Space, Microsoft’s cloud platform that links with satellites in space.

Parikh’s appointment was welcomed by space analysts, who say his experience leading an array of space-related bureaucracies makes him a good fit for his new role. The space council bundles a number of cabinet-level officials together, from NASA administrator to the director of national intelligence, for quarterly or biannual meetings to discuss civil and international space issues.

“He was almost like an interagency coordinator, which is very similar to the role that he will be playing as the executive secretary of the National Space Council,” said Victoria Samson, space policy analyst and Washington director for the Secure World Foundation. “So he’ll be bringing years of expertise to do a lot of the same sort of things that he’ll be doing in his new job.”

In the two months before the Biden administration confirmed Harris would helm the space council, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the White House would even keep it after the Trump administration. The Obama administration crafted its space policy through the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council — under Parikh’s space tenure. But the vice president’s commitment to lead the council in May became one of a few rare instances where Biden’s White House aligned with Trump-era initiatives.

National Space Council
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the sixth meeting of Trump’s National Space Council in August 2019.
Photo by Aubrey Gemignani / NASA via Getty Images

Biden has embraced NASA’s Artemis program, the Trump-branded effort to land humans on the Moon by 2024 and use its surface as a training ground for future missions to Mars. And under Biden, NASA is keeping its preference for commercially focused projects in space, like its Commercial Crew Program — which began under Obama — and core elements of the Artemis program, which was created under Pace’s space council.

“They certainly have different backgrounds,” space policy analyst Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation, said on Pace and Parikh’s resumes. “It might be the case that Chirag [Parikh] is a little more focused early on in the national security side of space, rather than the civil side, because that’s his background ... but the Biden admin as also expressed strong support for the Artemis program, and for Gateway, and for commercial cargo and crew, so I don’t expect that to just be ignored.”