WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday officially established the Space Development Agency as a separate organization within the Department of Defense that will be led by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin.

“A national security space architecture that provides the persistent, resilient, global, low-latency surveillance needed to deter or, if deterrence fails, defeat adversary action is a prerequisite to maintaining our long term competitive advantage,” Shanahan wrote in a March 12 memo obtained by SpaceNews.

“We cannot achieve these goals and we cannot match the pace our adversaries are setting if we remain bound by legacy methods and culture. Therefore, effective immediately, I establish the Space Development Agency as a separate defense agency,” the memo said, noting that the agency is being created under existing legal authorities and will be under the “direction and control of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.”

Shanahan describes the SDA as a “uniquely positioned and empowered organization” that will unify and integrate efforts across the department to “define, develop and field the novel and innovative solutions necessary to outpace advancing threats.”

According to the memo, the SDA will be responsible for overall program policy development and execution of next-generation military space capabilities except those funded in the military intelligence budget.

“The SDA will unify and integrate the development of space capabilities … to reduce overlap and inefficiency,” Shanahan wrote. The agency also will be responsible to promote “government-commercial relationships and international collaboration with key allies and partners, leveraging commercial and allies apace technology when practical.” It will also work with warfighters to “address operational requirements.”

The SDA’s first director will be Fred Kennedy, who until now served as the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Tactical Technology Office. The agency’s director will have special authorities as a “senior procurement executive,” said the memo, which includes the ability to enter into “transactions other than contracts, cooperative agreements, grants, research projects, and prototype projects.” The director also can exercise available special authority to hire civilian employees, including limited-term appointments of highly qualified experts. The director also will have approval authority over assignments of military personnel selected for duty at the SDA.

It is likely that resources from other agencies or military departments will transition to the SDA in the future. The undersecretary for research and engineering will work with the Pentagon comptroller to “determine any realignment of FY19 and FY20 resources.”

The SDA will transfer to the U.S. Space Force once approved by Congress. The Pentagon requested $149.8 million for the new space agency in its budget for fiscal year 2020.

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...