DoD agencies to invest more than $1 billion in low-Earth orbit space technologies
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s defense budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 seeks more than $1.2 billion for military space systems in low-Earth orbit.
According to budget documents released May 28, nearly $900 million of that investment is for the Space Development Agency’s communications network in low-Earth orbit (LEO) known as the Transport Layer. The Missile Defense Agency is seeking about $300 million for space sensors, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is requesting $42 million to deploy experimental satellites in LEO under the Blackjack program.
These agencies report to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and are not part of the U.S. Space Force, which has its own budget for research, development and procurement of new systems. But many of the LEO technologies developed by SDA, MDA and DARPA are expected to transition into larger Space Force programs.
Space Development Agency
The Pentagon is seeking $936.7 million in 2022 for the SDA, about a $600 million increase from 2021. That includes $808.8 million for research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E), $53.8 million for operations and maintenance, and $74 million for procurement.
This is the first time that SDA gets a separate funding line for procurement.
The agency’s large spending boost was expected for 2022 as SDA prepares to launch the first batch of its Transport Layer satellites and moves ahead with the procurement of up to 150 satellites that would launch in 2024.
The 2022 request funds the demonstration of SDA’s first 28 satellites — 20 Transport Layer Tranche 0 satellites and eight wide-field-of-view space sensors to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles known as Tracking Layer Tranche 0.
The funds also would allow SDA to start acquiring Transport Layer Tranche 1 satellites. Tracking Layer Tranche 1 satellites are not funded in the 2022 request.
Missile Defense Agency
The Pentagon’s $8.9 billion funding request for MDA includes $292.8 million for space programs.
MDA is seeking $260 million for the hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensor (HBTSS). Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of MDA, told reporters May 28 that this funding allows the agency to keep two contractor teams working on competing payloads to be launched to a low orbit in fiscal year 2023 as well as ground systems.
“The idea is to keep competition going given the complexity of the mission,” Hill said. “This is the only program within the space portfolio that provides fire control quality data.” This data would be used to track the trajectory of a maneuvering hypersonic missile so it can be intercepted.
Hill said the HBTSS medium-field-of-view sensor satellites will be interoperable with the SDA’s Tracking Layer under an umbrella architecture. SDA’s satellites are wide-field-of-view sensors, and provide data for the HBTSS system.
Two existing missile tracking satellites in LEO that MDA launched in 2009 — the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, or STSS — will be taken out of service, said Michelle Atkinson, MDA’s director for operations.
MDA is seeking $15.2 million in 2022 to retire the STSS satellites. “Funds requested will provide for the safe passivation of the STSS demonstration satellites and close-out of the program through fiscal year 2022,” said Atkinson.
The agency also is requesting $32 million for the Spacebased Kill Assessment (SKA) project, which uses a network of infrared sensors hosted on commercial satellites to assess the performance of MDA’s interceptors.
“SKA sensors on orbit today have participated successfully in a variety of MDA flight tests and engineering activities,” MDA said in its budget documents.
DARPA is requesting $42 million to continue the Blackjack project to demonstrate the military utility of small satellites in LEO to provide communications, missile warning and navigation.
The agency started Blackjack in 2018 and has awarded contracts to multiple vendors for satellite buses, payloads and an autonomous computing system to operate the constellation. DARPA wants to demonstrate that a common satellite bus can be flown with different payloads and that a constellation can be operated autonomously.
DARPA plans to deploy as many as 20 satellites under the Blackjack program and demonstrate technologies that could transition to SDA’s constellations or to Space Force procurement programs.