Space Force examines US needs for “reactive space”

Space Force examines US needs for “reactive space”

Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein: Space Force needs to “understand where we need tactically responsive launch, but more importantly, tactically responsive space.”

WASHINGTON — The US Space Force plans to conduct a “reactive space” demonstration in 2023 where private launch companies will be challenged to deploy satellites on short notice.

The demonstration is part of a Congress-led effort to create a “tactically responsive launch” program. Congress squeezed $50 million into the 2022 defense budget, arguing that the DoD should figure out how to use commercial launch services during conflict to replace damaged satellites or deploy new ones quickly if needed.

Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, head of U.S. Space Systems Command, said Space Force must “understand where we need tactically responsive launch, but more importantly, tactically responsive space.”

Speaking April 20 at a C4ISRNET online conference, Guetlein said the Space Force, like the rest of the US military, must prepare for future conflicts against technologically advanced competitors and will need capabilities to “a rapid replenishment of space”.

The Pentagon predicts that rival nations like China and Russia during a conflict will use space weapons to interfere with or destroy US satellites.

A reactive launch demonstration took place last year when the Space Force fleave him Tactically Reactive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. The whole process from the start of the mission, launch planning took less than 10 months, Guetlein said. The launch company had 21 days to integrate the payload and launch it into orbit.

“Rather than just focusing on the launch problem, we’re focusing on the whole launch to in-orbit capability building,” he said. “We’re going to dramatically accelerate this ability that we’ve been doing in TacRL-2 to make sure we can fill a gap in times of crisis or conflict.

The Congressional $50 Million Supplement for a Tactically Responsive Launch will fund a demonstration of not only the launchers, but also the capabilities for faster payload integration. Companies like Virgin Orbit actively lobbied for funding for this program, which would boost small launch service providers who don’t need conventional launch facilities and claim they can respond within days or hours.

Congress criticized the DoD for not funding a tactically responsive launch. Defense officials said the $50 million should be spent on a full demonstration of responsive mission planning, satellite deployment, in-orbit operations and data delivery.

Guetlein said the 2023 demonstration will inform future budget requests and the results will give Space Force a better understanding of “where technically responsive space can meet a wartime or crisis requirement.”

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