Budget Funding Cut, Delays ‘A Big Deal’ for Space Development Agency


Washington: The head of the Space Development Agency said delays to fiscal 2024 funding and the possibility of an across-the-board budget cut would be “a big deal” for his organisation’s acquisition plans in the coming year. SDA Director Derek Tournear said December 7 the agency has already put some projects on hold due to the ongoing continuing resolution, which pauses spending at fiscal 2023 levels.

“It’s just too much uncertainty,” Tournear said during a National Security Space Association webinar. “The biggest thing that we could ask for is predictability in the budget, passing a budget, so that we can continue to move fast. Right now, we can move as fast as we can but uncertainty in funding will put a break on everything. So, it’s a big problem.”

The agency was established in 2019 to quickly field a constellation of hundreds of data transport and advanced missile tracking satellites in low Earth orbit, about 1,200 miles above the Earth’s atmosphere. Those spacecraft will augment existing fleets of large satellites and the plan is for SDA to upgrade its capabilities on a two-year cycle.

The agency began launching its first batch of satellites, dubbed Tranche 0, in April and September and will finalize that tranche with a third mission early next year. Next September, it will begin an 11-launch campaign to deliver 161 Tranche 1 satellites to orbit.

Tournear said the continuing resolution, which is set to expire February 2, shouldn’t impact SDA’s Tranche 1 launches. However, the agency has already put some of its Tranche 2 acquisition plans on hold —specifically, its solicitation for eight satellites that will demonstrate the ability to send fire control information to military users as well as another 20 data transport satellites.

“We most likely will not award those until we get out of a CR just because there’s too much uncertainty in what the budget will hold,” he said.

Along with agencies across the government, SDA faces the further threat of an automatic 1% funding cut if Congress fails to pass all 12 appropriations bills before the end of the month. The mandatory reduction was part of a debt ceiling deal passed earlier this year. If that cut is triggered, Tournear said, SDA may have to stop work on existing programs and potentially terminate contracts. It would also likely pause its Tranche 2 demonstration efforts, he added.

“It’s a big deal. It’s real,” he said. “And it’s not something that’s easily mitigable.”