COLORADO SPRINGS — The U.S. Space Force’s budget continues to inch upward, but the service’s funding growth has been tempered by broader fiscal pressures facing the Pentagon.

The military branch focused on defending American interests in space received $29 billion in funding for fiscal year 2024 as part of a broader multi-agency spending package passed by Congress on March 21. While below the $30 billion the Space Force had requested, the approved funding represents an increase from the $26.3 billion enacted for fiscal 2023.

The 2024 appropriations legislation was passed six months into the fiscal year, despite pleas from senior defense officials who have repeatedly warned that these delays are disruptive to military operations and plans.

Funding instability

“It’s extremely difficult for the Space Force and all the armed services to  make investments when you have this budget instability,” said Steve Jordan Tomaszewski, senior director of national security space at the Aerospace Industries Association.

With regard to the level of Space Force funding, Tomaszewski said the service has seen steady growth “as more people are realizing what space brings to the fight.”

The 2024 spending bill was approved just days after the Biden administration unveiled its budget proposal for fiscal 2025, seeking $29.4 billion for the Space Force as the Pentagon looks to modernize systems and harden defenses against growing threats in orbit from rivals like China and Russia.

Todd Harrison, defense budget analyst and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said he was surprised that Congress cut the Space Force’s 2024 request by $1 billion. These reductions were due in part to the budget cap and all of the “must pay” bills in other parts of the DoD budget. “This does not bode well for fiscal year 2025 because the budget cap for defense is lower than fiscal year 2024 when adjusted for inflation,” said Harrison.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, passed as part of a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, placed strict caps on discretionary spending over the next two years.

Investment in next-gen systems

While falling short of its goal, the Space Force’s 2024 budget preserves funding for critical next-generation systems, including upgraded secure communications satellites and new missile-tracking sensor payloads, said Jamie Morin, executive director of the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy.

“This budget supports the Space Force’s major programs and will allow the Space Development Agency to continue building out a more resilient space architecture in low Earth orbit and deploying capabilities like those used to track hypersonic missiles,” Morin said.

The Space Force and U.S. Space Command in late March submitted separate lists of programs collectively worth $2.3 billion that were not funded in the 2025 budget request. The large “unfunded requirements” submission, most for classified technologies, shows what happens when funding is constrained, said Morin. 

“The cuts tend to concentrate on the investment accounts,” he added. Otherwise, Congress would have to cut military personnel and those force structure cuts are “difficult to pull off and, frankly, deeply disruptive if you do them on short notice because you lose valuable people you have just invested in.”

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...