Continuing Resolution Would Put Brakes on Pentagon Space Initiatives, Defense Department Warns

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WASHINGTON — Amid growing concern that fiscal year 2016 will begin under a continuing resolution that funds U.S. government activities at prior-year levels, the Defense Department is warning that two high-priority Air Force initiatives to more closely monitor and manage space activity could face delays as a result, according to a document obtained by SpaceNews.

The document, called an anomalies list, lays out priority Defense Department programs that would suffer in the event that Congress is unable to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The document seeks special dispensation to increase funding for anomalies list programs, which otherwise could not move forward.

The Defense Department specifically seeks congressional permission to move ahead with efforts to improve its primary space traffic management and operations center and to develop a new satellite designed to keep tabs on other objects in orbit. Both would face delays under a continuing resolution, the document says.

Both the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) Mission System and the follow-on to the Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) system Block 10 satellite were highlighted in the White House’s budget rollout in February as part of a newly bolstered space protection effort. The fiscal year 2016 budget also includes about $5 billion in funding over five years to counter what government officials say are emerging Russian and Chinese threats to U.S. space capabilities.

The JSpOC, which supports a variety of military space activities including launch, satellite maneuvers and collision avoidance, is in the midst of a $900 million overhaul known as the JSpOC Mission System. The Air Force requested nearly $82 million for the effort next year, an $8 million increase over 2015.

Without that increase, the Air Force risks “delaying needed [U.S. Strategic Command] capability to counter emerging threats” by at least six months or more, the document said.

The Air Force is also worried about its timetable for its follow-on to the SBSS Block 10 satellite, which operates in low Earth orbit but keeps tabs on objects maneuvering in the much higher geostationary orbit, home for communications, missile warning and weather monitoring spacecraft. The Air Force requested $31 million for the follow-on satellite, all of which, the document said, would be used for algorithm modifications, modeling and simulation, and manufacturing of long-lead items. The Air Force had not included money in that budget line for the 2015 budget.

Without the increase, the next-generation satellite “will have significant schedule risk” to meet its 2020 launch date, the document said. The Air Force is already facing a potential gap as service officials expect the current SBSS Block 10 satellite to reach its end of life in 2018.

The document also details planned Defense Department production increases for fiscal year 2016, a list that includes launch services and an upgrade to missile warning terminals.

The Air Force was scheduled to buy launch services for five missions in 2016 but would only have enough funding for four, which would be the subject of competition between incumbent United Launch Alliance and newcomer SpaceX, under a continuing resolution, the document says. The Air Force needs the funding by December 2016, the document said.

In addition, the Air Force wants to buy two upgraded mobile ground systems terminals to receive more data from the SBIRS and the legacy Defense Support Program satellites. The service only had enough funding for one in the 2015 budget.

The Air Force needs the funding by Nov. 1, the document said.