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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

In a keynote address at the 35th Space Symposium, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan laid out his most forceful case so far for the establishment of a new military branch for space.

Shanahan argued that standing up a Space Force — along with a U.S. Space Command and a Space Development Agency —  is what it will take to ensure the United States stays ahead of adversaries that are advancing their space capabilities. And he cast the issue as a matter of national and economic security.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks April 9, 2019 at the 35th Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks April 9, 2019 at the 35th Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell

Most of the substance of Shanahan’s remarks were about the Space Development Agency, a new organization stood up March 12 and led by former DARPA official Fred Kennedy. Shanahan has made the new agency one of his signature issues. The work of the SDA is not just important to national security but also to the nation’s space economy, he said.

“In addition to the threat, we also see thousands of satellites going into space in the next few years as the cost of launch continues to come down and space technology rapidly advances. This will unlock new opportunities and increase the importance of space for the American economy. Unfortunately, the Department is not moving fast enough to stay ahead.”
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan

The Space Development Agency is “what I call the pacing element of our plan,” he said. “The SDA will focus on developing and delivering the next generation of space-based communications and earth observation, while existing organizations continue their current efforts.”

SDA will “harness the innovation and investment that is taking place in commercial space,” said Shanahan. “DoD must leverage the private sector investment. … Our space R&D needs to include our own research and development as well as ‘rip off and deploy’ commercial market innovations.”

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...