WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency, formed inside the Pentagon in 2019 to help accelerate the use of commercial space technology, was officially transferred to the U.S. Space Force on Oct. 1.

Congress mandated the transfer in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act due to concerns that there are too many organizations running space programs. Lawmakers noted that a key reason they supported establishing the Space Force was to consolidate and streamline the management of acquisition programs. 

When the Space Development Agency, or SDA, was established in March 2019, it was placed under the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, a post then held by Mike Griffin, a staunch critic of the Defense Department’s procurement culture. 

At the time, Griffin was pushing the Pentagon to shift from the traditional large geosynchronous satellites to low Earth orbit constellations that, he argued, would be cheaper and faster to build due to commercial innovations. 

SDA faced early opposition from Air Force leaders and skepticism on Capitol Hill. After Griffin departed in July 2020, there was speculation that it would not survive but the agency pressed on and has gained strong congressional support. Despite its relatively small size of under 200 people, it has had outsize impact in the world of military procurement because of its nontraditional approach of buying satellites under fixed-price contracts and setting ambitious schedule targets. 

The head of Space Force procurement Frank Calvelli will be the SDA’s new boss for acquisition matters, and the agency will report to the Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations for all other matters.

“SDA will be key to rapidly delivering space capability to our warfighters,” Calvelli said in a statement Oct. 1. He said SDA’s proliferated low Earth orbit constellation model will be adopted across other Space Force programs. “I fully support their strategy, and we will maintain their structure and culture to let them continue to move fast and do what they do best. I’m excited for this dynamic organization to join the Space Force team.” 

SDA Director Derek Tournear, who has run the agency since June 2019, said the plan is to continue to focus on “speed, delivery and agility that our agency has demonstrated in the past.”

The next major challenge for the agency is to launch its first batch of satellites, which were expected to lift off in September but are running behind schedule due to supply chain problems. Tournear said last month that components and microchip shortages that have stymied satellite manufacturers industry-wide have caught up with SDA. 

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...