WASHINGTON — President Biden’s $842 billion budget request for the Defense Department for fiscal year 2024 includes $30 billion for the U.S. Space Force, the largest funding request to date for the military space branch.

The $30 billion request is $3.7 billion more than what Congress enacted for the Space Force in 2023.

“The largest space budget ever,” DoD said in budget documents released March 13 on the Biden administration’s funding request for the coming fiscal year that begins Oct 1. The proposed budget “procures and modernizes capabilities to secure the use of space in the face of increasing threats to U.S. national security space systems,” the Pentagon said in budget documents.

Most of the increase proposed for the Space Force is for the development and procurement of missile-warning satellites, and for launch services.

The Space Force’s $30 billion budget request includes: 

  • $19.2 billion for research, development, testing and engineering (RDT&E)
  • $4.7 billion for procurement
  • $4.9 billion for operations and maintenance 
  • $1.2 billion for military personnel 

Big increase for LEO satellites, space launch

The heftiest increase is in the RDT&E account. Funding for low and medium orbit missile-tracking satellites nearly doubles from $1.2 billion in 2023 to $2.3 billion in 2024. The Space Development Agency’s low Earth orbit data relay constellation gets $2.1 billion, or more than double the 2023 funding. Meanwhile, the Space Force eliminated one of three geostationary Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) that it planned to buy. “The Department has assessed the third satellite vehicle is not required,” said DoD budget documents, as the current constellation of Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites continues “positive performance.”

In the procurement category,  “this year it’s all about launch,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Greiner, deputy assistant secretary for budget.

DoD is seeking $2.6 billion for launch services for 15 missions, compared to last year’s appropriations of $1.7 billion for 10 missions. 

The $2.6 billion for launch includes $2.1 billion for 10 National Security Space Launch (NSSL) traditional geostationary and medium orbit missions, and five launches for the Space Development Agency’s LEO constellation. 

The NSSL and SDA launches are reported in separate budget lines at the request of Congress, Greiner said. 

‘We have to make a transformation’

Frank Kendall, the top civilian leader of the Air Force and Space Force, said the 2024 budget is “focused on trying to stay ahead of the threat.”

“What we’re most concerned about is the pacing challenge from China and their military modernization program,” Kendall told reporters. “You’ve been hearing me speak about this ad nauseam for the last couple of years.”

In response to this challenge, said Kendall, “we have to make a transformation to next-generation capabilities. And it’s a journey,” he said. “Time is our greatest concern. We did a lot of work over the past year to analyze those problems and look at various ways to try to address them.”

Specifically in the space domain, said Kendall, the 2024 budget begins a transition to a more diversified satellite architecture. 

Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, has directed the use of smaller satellites that can be built faster and cheaper than traditional large satellites. 

“We’re moving in that direction,” Kendall said. The Space Development Agency’s missile warning and data transport constellations “are the two obvious examples,” he said. Meanwhile, “we’re still sorting out what our future is going to be in programs like GPS and some of the other communication systems.”

The Space Force is “benefiting from what’s happened in the commercial world, because a number of commercial companies for business reasons are going to less expensive designs,” he said. This means “more proliferated, more affordable architectures that are also more resilient.”

Space Force budgets have steadily risen since the service was established three years ago. Its first budget in fiscal year 2021 was $15.3 billion, and it grew to $18 billion in 2022. It jumped to $26.3 billion in 2023 due to internal funds transfers from the Space Development Agency and the Air Force, plus a congressional add-on

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...