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Space Development Agency’s FY24 budget request skyrockets to $4.7B

The Space Development Agency will begin launching its Tranche 1 Transport Layer communications mesh network in 2024. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency, which re-aligned under the Space Force last October, is requesting a top line of about $4.7 billion for fiscal 2024 — a whopping 55 percent increase over last year’s request of $2.6 billion.

The bulk of those funds, some $4.1 billion, is in research, development, test and evaluation aimed at getting the first iterations of SDA’s planned satellites for both data relay, called the Transport Layer, and missile warning and tracking, called the Tracking Layer, into orbit.

SDA is responsible for rapidly developing and fielding large constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) for multiple military missions, via an incremental approach that will see improved capabilities on orbit every couple of years. This network structure, newly re-dubbed the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, includes satellites, battle management software, new type of technologies and payloads (for missions such as augmenting GPS) and ground support.

The goal is to provide resiliency in numbers, helping to replace today’s military constellations of handfuls of satellites high above the Earth in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) to complicate adversary attack plans and hopefully preserve US capabilities.

Breaking down SDA’s budget has become a bit of an art now that it has been integrated with the Space Force, as the budget-meisters at the Department of the Air Force (which oversees both the Space Force and the Air Force) now are disaggregating the agency’s funding lines — and doing so in a way that does not strictly track with SDA’s own programmatic architecture. (The topline budget figure for SDA, $4.7 billion, was provided to Breaking Defense by an agency spokesperson.)

So for example, there are two PE lines that cover RTD&E funding for the Transport Layer, PE 1206310SF and PE 1206410SF, with two different names, neither of which is Transport Layer.

Further, the SDA spokesperson explained, while the “majority” of funding in those two lines applies to the Transport Layer, “there are other items in these PEs.” Thus, the breakouts below based on the Space Force’s detailed RDT&E budget document, or j-book, released March 20 are close approximations.

Finally, SDA’s launch costs are in the Space Force’s Space Systems Command budget, using procurement funds. There are five launches included in the FY24 request for the agency, budgeted at $529 million.

Transport Layer

FY24 budget request lines for SDA Transport Layer

FY24 budget request lines for SDA Transport Layer. (SDA)

SDA is asking for a total of $2.6 billion in FY24 RDT&E for the Transport Layer, which according to the SDA website eventually will comprise “300 to more than 500 satellites in LEO ranging from 750 [kilometers] to 1200 [kilometers] in altitude.” These satellites are designed to provide the communications backbone of the Defense Department’s Joint All Domain Command and Control concept for managing operations across the ground, air, sea, space and cyber domains.

The funding is separated into a PE 1206310F at $473 million for technology research, and PE 1206410SF for development and prototyping, at $2.6 billion.

The latter budget line, according to the Space Force j-book, primarily includes funds for development of the Tranche 1 Transport Layer satellites, which be the first mission-capable constellation for data relay. This will include 128 satellites, expected to launch in September 2024. SDA in February 2022 awarded $1.8 billion in contracts to York Space Systems, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for their development. The total cost of the Tranche 1 Transport Satellite effort is expected to be $3.2 billion, the budget book says.

SDA requested slightly less than $987 million in FY23 for this line, but congressional appropriators bumped it up to a bit more than $1 billion in the omnibus federal spending package enacted in in December. The FY24 request thus is more than twice last year’s level.

In the future, the development and prototyping program element will include later iterations of the Transport Layer satellites — with SDA already planning to ink contracts for Tranche 2 sometime before the end of FY23 ends in September, according to the j-book. The agency is asking for $11 billion between FY24 and FY28 for PE 1206410SF.

Tracking Layer

SDA FY24 request tracking layer

SDA’s FY24 request for its Tracking Layer of missile warning/tracking satellites. (SDA)

SDA’s Tracking Layer, meanwhile, will “provide global indications, warning, tracking, and targeting of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems,” according to the agency’s website.

SDA is asking for a total of $1.5 billion in FY24 request for the Tracking Layer — called the Resilient Missile Warning Missile Tracking – Low Earth Orbit program by the Space Force.

As with the Transport Layer, the Tracking Layer’s budget is found in two program element lines: PE 1206446SF and PE 1206448SF.

PE 1206446SF, at $1.3 billion, includes the bulk of the funding for development of the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer constellation — is 60 percent jump from the FY23 appropriation of $786 million. Due to intense congressional interest in beefing up missile warning and tracking over China, that appropriation itself was a 38 percent increase from SDA’s FY23 request of almost $500 million. The agency is looking for $9.7 billion through FY28, which will cover later follow-on iterations of the missile warning/tracking satellites.

The Tranche 1 Tracking Layer will comprise 35 satellites in three orbital regions. SDA in July 2022 awarded L3Harris and Northrop Grumman contracts worth a total of $1.3 billion for each company to build 14 satellites to be deployed in two different orbital planes. On March 2, the agency used the FY23 budget bump to grant a contract worth more than $250 million to build seven more of the Tranche 1 missile warning/tracking sats optimized to cover the Indo-Pacific theater. SDA intends to begin launching the satellites built by L3Harris and Northrop Grumman in April 2025, and those by Raytheon sometime later that year.

According to the Space Force j-book, it will cost a total of $2.6 billion to complete development of the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer birds.

The second budget line, PE 1206448SF, at $253 million, is a “shared” budget pot with Space Systems Command, the SDA spokesperson said. According to the j-book, these funds are focused on ground systems. Further, the spokesperson added, funding for this effort is “subject to change” of the Space Force’s budget planning cycle.

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