WASHINGTON — As Congress pushes the Space Force to develop a responsive launch capability that can reconstitute assets quickly, the service is looking more broadly at how it can make its entire architecture more responsive.

For the last two years, Congress has included language in the National Defense Authorization Act directing the Space Force to establish a Tactically Responsive Space Launch program and develop plans for how the service will execute the initiative. The Space Force has opted not to request funding for the effort, relying instead on congressional largesse including a $50 million add in the Fiscal 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

The head of Space Systems Command Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein said today during the C4ISRNET Conference in Arlington, Va., that the service recognizes the need but is still defining its plan for responsive launch and, more broadly, responsive space capabilities.

“We’re trying to understand where we need rapid space capabilities and rapid space replenishment going forward,” he said. “Rather than just focusing on the launch problem, we’re focusing on the entire launch to capability on orbit construct.”

The Space Force’s Space Safari Program Office began running Tactically Responsive Space Launch missions in 2020 with a goal of developing and launching small satellites on a rapid timeline. Last year, the service launched its second Tactically Responsive Launch mission, TacRL-2, using Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket to lift payloads into low Earth orbit from a modified Stargazer L-1011 aircraft in flight.

Guetlein said that mission demonstrated the ability to respond to a requirement with a capability within 10 months, and the service is planning another TacRL mission for fiscal 2023 that he expects will “drastically accelerate that capability.”

As the service prepares for the demonstration, it is working closely with its force design organization, the Space Warfighting Analysis Center, to better understand how tactically responsive space capabilities can be used to respond to urgent or wartime needs.

“I think the demonstration that we’re going to do in FY 23 will inform that force design, and it will inform our future budget inputs to get after that future fight,” he said.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET's space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.

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