In just two years, the Space Development Agency has persuaded the Pentagon that cheaper mass-manufactured satellites deployed in big numbers may be of tremendous use to the US military.
SDA was founded by the Defense Department in 2019 with the primary purpose of speeding up the procurement of the space capabilities and leveraging private innovation. SDA, which has a budget of $900 million, has specific purchase authorities that allow programs to move quickly without being slowed down by Pentagon evaluations and bureaucracy.
In the fall of 2022, SDA expects to deploy its first 28 satellites into low Earth orbit: Twenty will be part of the Transport Layer, a mesh communications network, and 8 will be missile-identifying sensor satellites dubbed as the Tracking Layer. In 2024, the following set of 150 satellites is expected to launch.
Paula Trimble, SDA’s policy head and legislative affairs director, joined the organization in January. Trimble, a former space journalist and experienced Washington policy insider, discussed with SpaceNews about the agency’s unconventional approach to buying technologies.
As SDA’s chief of policy as well as legislative affairs, what do you do?
Engagement with congressional committees is a primary focus. Our primary concern is how we will continue this high pace in the future. One of the cornerstones to sustaining timelines, in my opinion as a policymaker, is stable funding. If you want to stay on time and offer the capabilities you say you’ll deliver; you need to make sure your budget is safeguarded.
What are examples of the congressional concerns you’ve heard?
We get a variety of queries about how we gather requirements and choose which capabilities we’ll supply. The response is that we have a ‘warfighter council,’ which is made composed of representatives from the military services, intelligence community, combatant commands, and other department stakeholders. They inform us of the capabilities they require.
What authority does SDA have to speed procurements, and how will this alter when the Space Force takes over in 2022?
We are accountable for our procurement as a Department of Defense entity. We have our contracting activity manager. The secretary of defence has transferred all of these powers to us, allowing SDA to move quickly. When we move to the Space Force, we’ll make sure we have the necessary level of authority and delegates in place to keep things running. On Capitol Hill, committees are focused on assisting us in maintaining those authorities, as well as our independence and inventive culture. We’ve engaged enough competent members of staff on the committees that we’ve been able to create a groundswell of favour for what we’re trying to accomplish.