U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) Credit: CSPAN video capture

WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee on June 21 released its proposals for the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act in advance of the markup scheduled for June 22 by subcommittee Chairman Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

The draft bill is heavy on nuclear weapons policy and missile defense. On space issues, it raises questions abou DoD’s use of commercial space technology, DoD’s acquisition strategy for satellite-based communications and the future plans of the Space Development Agency.

The markup includes several space-related provisions:

Cislunar space — The markup asks DoD for a detailed report on the cost and requirements for deep-space missions for national security, specifically cislunar space activities — or areas far beyond geosynchronous Earth orbit, near the moon’s orbit.

“The committee notes U.S. commercial capabilities could be used and expanded with new entrants to address emerging defense missions and requirements in the cislunar region in a cost-effective manner using novel approaches,” says the draft bill.

Space domain awareness — The bill requires the Space Force to procure commercial space domain awareness services and fences funding until these commercial services are procured.

Commercial RF mapping — The 2020 NDAA directed the National Reconnaissance Office to submit a report on commercial space-based radio frequency mapping. In the 2021 draft bill it directs the Chief of Operations of the Space Force to deliver an assessment of how U.S. commercial space-based radio frequency capabilities could support the U.S. military.

SATCOM architecture — The Space Force released a “Fighting SATCOM Enterprise” initiative, which the committee supports but believes is not enough. It favors an “accelerated and fully defined acquisition strategy” to enable “seamless, and resilient communications across our national security space enterprise.” It directs DoD to submit a report on commercial innovations and solutions to enable wideband SATCOM roaming and multi-domain command and control.

Mission assurance in launch — The committee believes that the mission assurance requirements of the Air Force drive significant costs for launch providers and “have not adequately accounted for reusability within the context of mission assurance.” It directs the Space Force to provide a report on “innovation in mission assurance requirements” for the National Security Space Launch program and for small launch.

Non-traditional space companies — The committee directs DoD to brief the committee on the challenges encountered by non-traditional space companies in entering the defense market and “pathways to resolving those challenges.”

Space Development Agency — The SDA “has an important mission but that the establishment of this agency has been rocky,” says the draft bill. “The committee is concerned that the SDA is not positioned to execute its mission in an effective manner and is neither equipped to focus on the many priorities it has set, nor has it adequately budgeted across the Future Years Defense Program, with several programs left unfunded.” The bill also seeks more information on SDA’s planned use of commercial technology. “The committee is aware that the core mission of the SDA initially included plans to procure commercial space services, for example broadband communications capabilities, and is concerned that these plans were dropped, with its focus shifting instead to solely a payload and software development and procurement model.”

Commercial LEO broadband — The bill notes that private industry is developing commercial low-Earth orbit based satellite technology to provide broadband capabilities. “The committee encourages the Department of Defense to continue to identify opportunities to develop defense-specific applications that leverage this commercial satellite network capability and services” and directs DoD to submit a report on how these systems can be used to address military requirements.

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 two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...