Fred Kennedy, Director of Space Development Agency, answers questions at the 35th Space Symposium, Monday April 8, 2019. in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Keith Johnson/SpaceNews)

WASHINGTON — Less than five months into his tenure as director of the Space Development Agency, Fred Kennedy is stepping down from the post and will be returning to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“Dr. Fred Kennedy has been serving on a detail from DARPA as the director of the Space Development Agency. He has stepped down from that role and is returning to DARPA. An acting director of SDA will be announced soon,” Defense Department spokeswoman Heather Babb told SpaceNews in a statement.

According to multiple industry and DoD sources, Kennedy on Wednesday submitted his resignation to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, who oversees the SDA.

The news came as a shock as Kennedy had been hand-picked by Griffin to run the new agency.

The SDA was a top priority of Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan who officially established the agency on March 12 and announced his resignation on Tuesday. The shakeup at the SDA comes at an especially turbulent time following Shanahan’s resignation and months-long efforts by the Pentagon to sell congressional committees on the important of the SDA.

Shanahan in January decided to put the SDA under Griffin’s portfolio. The designation of Kennedy to lead the SDA came after Griffin enlisted Kennedy to lead a study of how the SDA should be organized. Before taking over the SDA, Kennedy was the director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

Just last week on June 14, Kennedy spoke enthusiastically at a Capitol Hill event about the SDA’s ambitious agenda to change how the military buys satellites and other space systems. Earlier that week at a MITRE conference in Bedford, Massachusetts, Kennedy said he was more optimistic than he had ever been since taking over the SDA about congressional support for the agency.

It is not clear exactly what prompted Kennedy to resign. According to two sources, he and Griffin were not seeing eye to eye on how the SDA should be run.

Babb, the DoD spokeswoman, told SpaceNews that Shanahan’s departure is not expected to impact the SDA. “There is no change to the mission or activities of the Space Development Agency. SDA will drive the department’s future threat-driven space architecture and will accelerate the development and fielding of the new military space capabilities necessary to ensure our technological and military advantage in space for national defense.”

Several sources told SpaceNews that the agency might not get the same level of support it got from Shanahan and that there are still factions in the Pentagon that don’t see a real purpose for the SDA and view it as duplicative of what other organizations do in the Air Force.

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...