WASHINGTON — The members of the congressional delegation from New Mexico are asking Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to locate elements of the new Space Development Agency in that state so it can collaborate with a large community of space research organizations that are based there.

“As you stand up the SDA, we urge you and other senior leaders to look to the state of New Mexico as a host for co-locating the agency headquarters and to be your lead entities for implementing the space R&D policies you directed,” lawmakers wrote in a March 18 letter addressed to Shanahan.

The letter was signed by Sen. Martin Heinrich, who is Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee, as well as Sen. Tom Udall, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, Rep. Debra Haaland and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.

Copies of the letter also were sent to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Space Development Agency Director Fred Kennedy and the commander of Air Force Space Command Gen. John Raymond.

During a Senate Armed Services hearing last week on the fiscal year 2020 defense budget, Heinrich suggested that he would support the Space Development Agency but challenged Shanahan to explain how the SDA does not duplicate what others are already doing. “I very much agree that our competitors are rapidly fielding new capabilities in the space domain and that we need to move with a greater sense of urgency,” said Heinrich. “I welcome the increased prioritization the department has put on this area. … One thing I want to make sure we’re not doing is re-organizing the existing pieces or reinventing the wheel.”

The letter points out that New Mexico is home to two National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories, the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Advanced Systems and Development Directorate, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, the Space Test Program, the White Sands Missile Range, Spaceport America, the Starfire Optical Range and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

“The Space RCO, in particular, provides the Department with a tremendous opportunity to utilize the office’s unique acquisition authorities to develop and transition space systems quickly towards a more disaggregated space architecture,” says the letter.

Coincidentally, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who represented New Mexico when she served in Congress, in a September memo to Shanahan recommended that the Space Development Agency be co-located with the Space RCO at Kirtland Air Force Base. Her suggestion was rejected by Shanahan and Griffin who believed the SDA should be in the Pentagon and should not be like a traditional military procurement organization.

During the hearing, Heinrich mentioned the Space RCO, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate and Advanced Systems Directorate as organizations that play a “critical role in researching developing and fielding our nation’s spaces systems.” He told Shanahan DoD should “fully utilize the existing R&D assets as you stand up SDA so that we’re not losing a few years of reorganization to make the whole system work better.”

Shanahan pushed back on the idea that the Space Development Agency is simply a reorganization. “The number one element of the Space Development Agency that we need to take advantage of is large-scale systems engineering,” he said. “There is incredible technology in the Air Force. We don’t lack talent, that is not our issue. We don’t lack for money.” But the problem is that many overlapping projects today are being pursued across DoD, he explained, which drives up cost and slows down the pace of innovation. The Space Development Agency would seek to consolidate duplicative efforts.

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...