Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) instructs the Defense Department to present a strategy for how it will utilize commercial launch vehicles for the so-dubbed tactically responsive missions in the draft of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. The wording was inserted in the chairman’s mark of the NDAA, which House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will take up on September 1.
Tactically responsive space launch entails speeding up launch procedures so that satellites can be deployed quickly in an emergency or during a conflict. The idea is to capitalize on the expanding number of small launch companies, many of which are backed by venture money.
Similar wording was included in last year’s NDAA, which directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish the responsive launch program and forecast financing requirements for the next five years. The chairman’s mark for 2022 indicates that the committee is unsatisfied that the Department of Defense did not follow last year’s congressional directive and did not request any cash towards a tactically responsive launch in the 2022 budget.
In a summary of this bill, the HASC said that the chairman’s mark “continues to underscore the necessity for the tactically responsive space launch as well as demands the secretary of Defense to give a strategy, including financing, on how this program would be implemented in future years Defense programs.” Commercial vendors of the small satellite launch services will be particularly interested in this program. The US Space Force has a limited launch program, with only a few contracts signed in recent years, the majority of which were financed by congressional add-ons.
The TacRL-2 (Tactically Responsive Launch-2) mission was recently launched by the Space Force aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL spacecraft. A space surveillance demo satellite was launched into low Earth orbit as the payload. A mission that would ordinarily take 2-5 years took 11 months, as per the Space Force.
Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act directed Department of Defense to “accelerate the establishment of the responsive launch concepts of these operations, training, tactics, and procedures.” “To compel the Secretary of Defense, in collaboration with Director of National Intelligence, to assist the strategically responsive launch program,” the 2022 NDAA would alter the language of the 2021 bill.
Smith requests that the strategy handle the following:
• The whole launch process, such as satellite bus, launch services, and payload availability, sustainment, and operations on-orbit, and the ability to quickly position on-orbit systems to react to urgent requirements of combatant command commanders or to recreate space resources and capabilities to promote national security priorities.
The 2022 phrase is simply a “foot-stomp from HASC to stress their support for the program, particularly when the 2021 language was not followed and there was no cash in the FY22 budget for the tactically responsive launch,” according to an industry source.