WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers in a letter Jan. 31 asked House defense appropriators to add $50 million to the Pentagon’s 2022 budget for tactically responsive space launch, a term used to describe launch services that can be performed on short notice. 

“The U.S. is currently not prepared to replace or augment space launch capabilities on tactical timelines if capabilities are lost,” says the letter sent to Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee.

The letter was signed by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), and co-signed by 10 other members from both parties. 

The Pentagon did not request any funding in 2022 for tactically responsive launch. The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act approved $50 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense appropriations bill matched the NDAA’s recommendation but the House version does not.

“As the fiscal year 2022 appropriations process continues and you enter into negotiations with the Senate on a final fiscal year 2022 Department of Defense Appropriations bill, we respectfully request that you consider including $50 million for tactically responsive launch,” says the Jan. 31 letter, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews.

The letter argues that military commanders need to be able to “reconstitute space assets and capabilities if such assets and capabilities are degraded or attacked.” The recent Russian anti-satellite missile test “demonstrates the urgency with which the Department of Defense must field capabilities to meet this challenge” as U.S. satellites are threatened by direct-ascent or space-based weapons, and space debris.

The lawmakers say they agree with the NDAA language that DoD should establish a “program of record centered on tactically responsive launch.”

Companies like Virgin Orbit have actively lobbied for funding for this program, which is aimed at the small launch industry, particularly providers that don’t require conventional launch facilities and can get their vehicles ready to launch within days or hours. 

The letter says the $50 million should be spent on a comprehensive demonstration of responsive mission planning, deployment of satellites, on-orbit operations and delivery of on-orbit data.

No specific launch providers are mentioned in the letter. According to a congressional source, lawmakers expect the Space Force to make a competitive selection based on technical merits and cost. Given the growing number of small companies trying to compete in this sector, the source said, a DoD demonstration should include multiple vendors that use different launch methods.

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...