Space Force Analyzes US Needs for ‘Responsive Space’

Space Force Analyzes US Needs for ‘Responsive Space’

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

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force plans to hold a “responsive space” demonstration in 2023, where private launch companies will be challenged to deploy satellites at short notice.

The rally is part of a congressional-led effort to create a “tactical response launch” program. Congress has put $50 million into the 2022 defense budget, arguing that the DoD should figure out how to use commercial launch services during a conflict to replace damaged satellites or deploy new ones quickly if necessary.

Lieutenant General Michael Guetlein, head of the US Space Systems Command, said Space Force needs to “understand where we need tactical-response launch, but more importantly, tactical-response space.”

Speaking April 20 during an online C4ISRNET conference, Guetlein said that the Space Force, like the rest of the US military, needs to prepare for future conflicts against technologically advanced competitors and will need resources for “rapid resupply from 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 responsive launch demonstration took place last year when the Space Force fI read the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. The entire process from the start of mission planning for launch took less than 10 months, Guetlein said. The launch company was given 21 days to integrate the payload and put it into orbit.

“Instead of just focusing on the launch issue, we are focusing on the whole launch to build capacity in orbit,” he said. “We are going to dramatically accelerate this capability that we did under TacRL-2 to ensure that we can fill a gap in a time of crisis or conflict.”

The additional $50 million from Congress for tactically responsive launch will fund a demonstration of not only launch vehicles, but also capabilities to integrate payloads faster. Companies like Virgin Orbit actively lobbied for funding for this program, which would boost small launch service providers that do not require conventional launch facilities and claim they can respond within days or hours.

Congress has criticized the DoD for not funding the tactically responsive launch. Defense appropriators said the $50 million should be spent on a comprehensive 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 the Space Force a better understanding of “where technically responsive space can fulfill a war or crisis requirement.”

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