Derek Tournear named permanent director of the Space Development Agency

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Tournear’s appointment does not require Senate confirmation. His immediate challenge will be to get SDA staffed and secure funding to start programs.

WASHINGTON — Derek Tournear, who has served as the acting director of the Space Development Agency since June, has been named permanent director, the Defense Department announced Oct. 28.

The agency was established in March and sits under the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin.

DoD in a news release calls Tournear the “first permanent director of the Space Development Agency.” Fred Kennedy was Griffin’s original pick to be SDA’s first director but resigned before his position was made permanent. Tournear was serving as Griffin’s assistant director for space when he was tapped to replace Kennedy.

Griffin said the SDA will accelerate the acquisition of space systems partly by using commercially developed technology. One of the goals of SDA is to deploy large numbers of low orbiting satellites — what it calls a proliferated low Earth orbit constellation — equipped with sensors to detect hypersonic missiles and other advanced weapons that are hard to track with traditional radar or with strategic missile warning satellites in higher orbits. SDA also will design a National Defense Space Architecture consisting of six space layers and ground systems that will guide all future DoD space investments.

“Our strategy is to unify efforts across the military services and government agencies to rapidly develop capabilities that are responsive to the threat, are cost-effective, and increase our technological advantage,” Griffin said in a statement. “Derek will lead our effort to achieve those goals.”

Before joining Griffin’s office, Tournear was a senior scientist for space activities at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity and a program manager at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He also worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and held jobs in the private sector at Harris Corp. and ITT Exelis Geospatial Systems. Tournear has a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University.

Tournear’s appointment does not require Senate confirmation. His immediate challenge will be to get SDA staffed and secure funding to start programs. The Pentagon in its 2020 budget requested nearly $150 million for the agency: $44.7 million for personnel, $20 million for space research and development and $85 million for space technology prototyping. That funding has yet to be approved by Congress which has not yet passed federal spending bills for 2020.

In a draft budget proposal that is being reviewed by DoD leaders for fiscal year 2021, SDA seeks nearly $11 billion over five years to plan, design and deploy large constellations of satellites for military use.