WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is expected to request approximately $270 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget to stand up a Space Force headquarters, a Space Development Agency and U.S. Space Command, according to draft documents.

The amount is modest compared to multibillion-dollar estimates that have been floated in the past several months. The 2020 request would cover the cost of setting up the Space Development Agency, U.S. Space Command and the Space Force headquarters — if and when Congress authorizes the establishment of the new branch. The Pentagon projects that the Space Force budget will increase over the next several years due to mission demands.

In the 2020 budget, the Pentagon would request $64 million to stand up the Space Force headquarters, $120 million for the Space Development Agency and $84 million for U.S. Space Command — $76 million of which would be transferred from existing accounts. These numbers are from a draft memo that the Pentagon’s cost assessment and program evaluation office, known as CAPE, circulated in late December to inform the 2020 budget request and the Space Force legislative proposal. The draft document, which was reviewed by SpaceNews, is labeled “pre-decisional.”

In a memo to the White House Office of Management and Budget, CAPE director Bob Daigle said the fiscal year 2020 budget “includes the resources to start a preliminary headquarters, begin work at the SDA and establish a U.S. Space Command.”

Once a U.S. Space Force is authorized by Congress, the Defense Department will transfer additional resources from the Air Force to the Space Force in 2021, Daigle wrote. In subsequent years, more resources will be transferred from the Army and the Navy “in order to fully implement an independent U.S. Space Force service.”

The new branch would sit within the Department of the Air Force. Once Congress authorizes a Space Force, the first step will be for the Pentagon to nominate its leaders — a space undersecretary, a chief of staff and a vice chief of staff. The headquarters would be staffed with a combination of Air Force and other service transfers, new hires, details and contractors. The next phase would be the transfer of program management responsibilities and personnel from the Air Force, Army and Navy to the Space Force. That would likely take several years, according to the CAPE memo. “The department recommends a phased approach.”

The 2020 budget is a “starting point,” the memo said. CAPE noted that the budget plan does not include “mission growth that may be needed to meet the evolving threat.”

DoD wants ‘orderly’ transition

The transfer of programs and resources to the Space Force from the other services should be done “in an orderly manner while simultaneously enabling the growth of new capabilities,” said CAPE.

The Space Force headquarters would start out with about 200 people, but over time could expand to 500 or 1,000. “Space capabilities are a rapidly evolving and growing portion of the Department’s activities and future resource needs will almost certainly evolve in each budget cycle,” the memo said. Additional manpower could be required, for example, to staff major commands and field operating agencies responsible for training, doctrine and personnel.

The service’s final size and budget would depend on what investments are made in space capabilities and operations to respond to threats. Much remains undecided about the makeup of the Space Force, such as how many bases it will operate, and whether it will have its own recruiting and education centers. These unknowns “drive uncertainties in the department’s estimate,” said the memo. Future administrative costs, depending on the scope and size of Space Force support functions, could add anywhere from a few hundred million to $2 billion a year.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has been insistent the Space Force will be set up as a lean organization with minimum overhead expenses, although many of those details will have to be negotiated with lawmakers over the coming year.

A small headquarters initially of about 200 people will help “establish a foundation to accept mission transfer starting in FY21,” CAPE said. During the service’s first year of existence, Space Force leaders will have to figure out force structure plans, manpower requirements, transfer procedures, budgets, personnel policies, uniforms and training programs.

DoD analysts estimate that tens of billions of dollars worth of unclassified military space programs and personnel eventually will transfer to the Space Force. The Air Force, Army and Navy are  expected to transfer between $10 billion to $12 billion billion worth of space programs and personnel to the Space Force between 2021 and 2024.

Only 140 people would transfer from other services into the Space Force in FY20, but the number could jump to 10,000 in 2021. The overall size of the Space Force is projected to reach about 11,000 by 2024.

Space Development Agency, Space Command

The Space Development Agency would start and stay small, according to the CAPE memo. Its annual funding would range from $120 million to about $200 million. It would be stood up with about 50 people and grow to 112 by fiscal year 2024. That matches the recommendation made by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin in an October memo.

Shanahan last month directed Griffin to move ahead with the establishment of the Space Development Agency under his oversight, although the agency could later be moved under the Space Force. The Air Force had argued that the SDA should stay within the Air Force and transfer to the Space Force within 90 days of the enactment of the legislation. Shanahan rejected that proposal and put Griffin in charge.

The idea is for the Space Development Agency to take on big technology challenges that Shanahan and others believe should be solved faster than the traditional DoD procurement system would be capable of. Some potential projects would be designing a resilient communications and data transport architecture, fielding a prototype missile warning constellation, advancing small satellite sensor technology, and speeding up the acquisition of commercial space situational awareness and small to medium payload launch services.

CAPE estimates the new combatant command for space, U.S. Space Command, will draw most of its resources from U.S. Strategic Command, where space warfighting responsibilities and expertise currently reside. U.S. Space Command would have about 600 people to start out. “Additional growth is expected to accommodate new missions,” the memo says. “The Department is analyzing U.S. Space Command’s longterm manpower requirements to inform the FY2021 president’s budget submission.”

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...