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Congress adds $1.7 billion for U.S. Space Force in 2023 spending bill

The 2023 omnibus spending package includes $26.3 billion for the U.S. Space Force
SAN ANTONIO -- U.S. government officials are "in the final stages" of assembling a charter that will govern a new organization within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) being created to handle civil-agency requests for spy satellite data, a senior U.S. intelligence official said.

WASHINGTON — Congress in a massive $1.7 trillion government funding bill on Dec. 23 approved $797.7 billion for the Defense Department, or $69.3 billion more than DoD got in 2022. 

The consolidated funding bill funds the U.S. government for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

The bill provides $26.3 billion for the U.S. Space Force, which is nearly $1.7 billion more than the Pentagon requested, according to estimates from the defense and aerospace consulting firm Velos. 

The House passed the omnibus spending package in a 225 to 201 vote, and the Senate 68 to 29.

The bulk of the $1.7 billion added to the Space Force budget is for new satellites. More than $500 million of the increase is for the Space Development Agency (SDA), an organization formed inside the Pentagon in 2019 to help accelerate the use of commercial space technology and transferred to the U.S. Space Force on Oct. 1. 

SDA is acquiring hundreds of satellites and associated ground systems for a low Earth orbit constellation that will be used to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles, and a mesh network of communications satellites to pass data to military users around the world. 

The 2023 defense appropriations bill adds $51 million for experiments, $216 million for launch services to accelerate the deployment of SDA’s missile warning and missile-tracking satellites, and $250 million to expand a demonstration of SDA’s missile-tracking constellation in the Indo-Pacific region. Congress in 2022 had already appropriated $550 million for the demonstration. 

Another notable add-on in the omnibus bill is $442 million for a wideband communications satellite, an action reminiscent of the 2018 defense appropriations bill when Congress inserted $600 million for a new Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite made by Boeing. 

The U.S. Air Force had planned on only buying 10 WGS satellites but Congress compelled the service to buy WGS-11 and this year is adding money presumably to buy WGS-12. 

The explanatory text released with the bill does not specify whether the funding is for a WGS satellite. The statement says the Space Force should “procure a protected wideband satellite to provide resilient, jam resistant tactical communications to support warfighter needs.” The bill directs the Secretary of the Air Force to provide a funding plan for launch and operation and maintenance.

The 2023 spending bill also adds $50 million for tactically responsive space, a program that Congress directed to demonstrate the use of commercial small launch vehicles for fast turnaround operations. 

This funding “supports the maturation of a responsive launch program of record to rapidly place and reconstitute space assets in support of combatant command requirements and space enterprise resilience,” appropriators said in their statement. They noted that the Department of the Air Force has yet to respond to congressional requests over the past two years for a long-term procurement plan for tactically responsive launch.

The Pentagon’s 2023 request “does not include any resources to establish the program despite a need to counter adversarial launches of disruptive technologies in a tactically relevant timeline,” said the statement. 

Biden signs NDAA

Also on Dec. 23 President Biden signed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. The legislation passed the Senate on December 15 by a vote of 83-11, and cleared the House on December 8 by a vote of 350-80. 

The bill overturns Biden’s own mandate that troops receive the covid vaccine.

On space policy matters, the NDAA requires the Space Force and U.S. Space Command to figure out how to make future satellites more resilient to enemy counterspace weapons and cyberattacks. 

The bill requires the secretary of defense and the director of national intelligence to make publicly available in the next 90 days “an unclassified strategy containing the actions that will be taken to defend and protect on-orbit satellites of the DoD and the intelligence community from the capabilities of adversaries to target, degrade, or destroy satellites.”

Despite significant lobbying from outside groups, the NDAA does not authorize a Space National Guard and would consider an alternative proposed by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to establish the Space Force as a single component with full-time and part-time members.

The NDAA directs the Secretary of the Air Force to to identify “rules, regulations, policies, guidance, and statutory provisions that may be implemented to govern the component, draft legislative text, feasibility assessments, and implication assessments.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly...