WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force in budget documents submitted to Congress last week is seeking $60 million over the next two years for a program known as tactically responsive space

This is the first DoD budget that requests funding for tactically responsive space. The program to date has been funded by congressional add-ons, and defense committees for years have asked DoD to create a dedicated budget line. Small satellite launch companies have actively lobbied for funding for responsive space, which would go to small launch providers that don’t require conventional launch facilities. 

Tactically responsive space is an initiative to demonstrate the capabilities of commercial launch vehicles to deploy small satellites on short notice. This type of service would be used during a conflict to replace a damaged satellite or augment existing constellations. Military officials said having access to responsive launch would give the U.S. additional resilience in case adversaries attempt to shoot down DoD or commercial satellites providing services to the military.

The Space Force budget proposal includes $30 million for tactically responsive space in fiscal year 2024 and $30 million in fiscal year 2025.

Congressional advocacy

Congress has inserted $115 million into the defense budget over the past three years for tactically responsive space demonstrations. Congressional advocates have argued the program is needed as world events have shown the strategic value of satellites, making them more attractive targets.

A demonstration of responsive space took place in 2021 when the Space Force flew the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

An upcoming Tactically Responsive Launch-3 mission known as Victus Nox is expected to fly as early as May. A contract for this demonstration was awarded in September to launch services provider Firefly Aerospace and satellite manufacturer Millennium Space. They have approximately eight months to prepare and then they will be on standby. The Space Force will give Firefly 24 hours’ notice to get ready to launch. 

The goal of Victus Nox — Latin for ‘conquer the night’ — is to demonstrate fast turnaround launch operations and to help planners figure out the front-end processes leading up to the launch. 

According to budget documents, the program will “continue maturing, demonstrating, and stressing end-to-end tactically responsive space solutions based on lessons learned and identified pain points from the Victus Nox demonstration.”

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...