Two senators and three representatives from New Mexico are pushing for the Pentagon to consider the southwestern state for the future home of the Space Development Agency.
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich were joined by Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Debra Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, all Democrats, in a March 18 letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to co-locate the SDA in New Mexico, which is “already home to many of the nation’s core space assets and has a significant space R&D community.”
Among the assets listed include: Two National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories; the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Advanced Systems and Development Directorate; the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate; White Sands Missile Range; and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Sp-RCO).
“The Sp-RCO, in particular, provides the Department with a tremendous opportunity to utilize the office’s unique acquisition authorities to develop and transition space systems quickly towards a more disaggregated space architecture,” the letter said.
The lawmakers also asked that Shanahan “ensure that DoD is not reinventing the wheel nor unnecessarily moving pieces around at the expense of limited taxpayer dollars.” Heinrich, who serves as ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee, pressed Shanahan for details on how the agency would avoid duplicating efforts by other military agencies on space development during a SASC hearing March 14. Shanahan replied that the agency would seek to “consolidate” duplicative efforts already taking place across the department.
While details remain scarce on how the SDA will occupy its time, its initial focus will be to develop a new low-Earth orbit-based sensor layer, DoD Undersecretary for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin told reporters March 13 at the Pentagon (Defense Daily, March 13). He underscored that that effort was not currently being handled by DoD offices to a significant degree.
The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2020 (FY ’20) budget justification books released March 18 include $105 million in FY ’20 to stand up the Space Development Agency. This includes $20 million to conduct trade studies over different sensor modalities and begin a preliminary design review for selected sensor payloads through the end of 2021, and $15 million for a new space-based kinetic interceptor layer for boost phase defense.
The justification book also includes $527 million over the five-year Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) for “space technology development and prototyping” in areas including persistent global surveillance for advanced missile targeting; alternate position, navigation and timing for a GPS-denied environment; space situational awareness; and development of a deterrent capability, among other efforts.
Griffin said that the SDA would at least initially be headquartered at the Pentagon. Fred Kennedy, director of the tactical technology office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), will be the SDA’s first director.
Udall sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, while Haaland and Torres Small sit on the House Armed Services Committee.