U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley’s appeal to Congress for additional funding in 2009 and 2010 for what has been billed as the Pentagon’s first true Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) mission is a positive development, even if it begs the question of where this kind of support was when the service was drafting its most recent budget request.

As Mr. Donley notes in a June 21 letter to senior members of the House and Senate defense oversight and spending committees, U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in
, has reconnaissance requirements that are not being met with existing systems. Indeed, the ORS-1 satellite program, which features a modified U-2 spy plane camera mounted on a small satellite platform, was hatched last year in response to what Pentagon officials described as an urgent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirement. The satellite was placed under contract last year with plans for a 2010 launch, yet the Air Force’s 2010 budget request for the effort was well short of what service officials acknowledged was needed to stay on that schedule.

Mr. Donley is now seeking congressional approval to reprogram $28.1 million in 2009 funds for ORS-1 and urging lawmakers to boost the Air Force’s proposed 2010 program budget by $23.4 billion. Lawmakers should grant the reprogramming request: the normal but often unpredictable ebb and flow of programs both dictates and allows for this sort of flexibility. This is especially true for 2009, with a new president having moved to curb or terminate several big-ticket defense programs.

On the question of boosting ORS-1’s 2010 budget, the House and Senate Armed Services committees were a step ahead of Mr. Donley; they had already added $23.4 million and $40 million, respectively, to the Air Force’s request for the project in their versions of the 2010 defense authorization bill. However, House appropriators did not follow suit, effectively putting the onus on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has yet to mark up its version of the defense spending bill.

. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the committee’s chairman and vice chairman, respectively, were among the lawmakers to whom Mr. Donley appealed on behalf of ORS-1. Hopefully they will be persuaded to provide the additional funding and then prevail on their House counterparts in conference. Mr. Donley’s argument that ORS-1 is urgently needed – not only to support current U.S. operations but also as a model for rapid deployment of space capabilities – is a compelling one, even if it seems weakened somewhat by the fact that it either was not made at such a high level or simply did not prevail when the Pentagon was preparing its 2010 budget request.