News   Reform

Global Missile Defense From Space Got More Affordable, DOD Official Says

Sept. 27, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Defense Department hopes, within the decade, to have a meshed network of low Earth orbit satellites — linked together and to warfighters — providing real-time global awareness of missile threats and the ability to respond.

However, that goal was once considered cost prohibitive, said the director of the Space Development Agency.

A  man sits in front of several computer monitors at the Pentagon.
Virtual Panel
Derek M. Tournear, director of the Space Development Agency, participates in a Defense One virtual panel on the "State of the Space Force," from the Pentagon, Sept. 27, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, DOD
VIRIN: 210927-D-BM568-1002A

Derek M. Tournear participated today in a Defense One virtual panel on the "State of the Space Force."

Now, the privatized commercial space industry has made that goal much more affordable, he said.

To put that in perspective, historically, each satellite has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

A rocket launches behind aircraft.
Rocket Launch
A 920th Rescue Wing HC-130J Combat King II aircraft sits on the flight line at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., Sept. 15, 2021, as the Inspiration4 rocket launches in the background. Inspiration4 is the world's first all-civilian mission to orbit, Sept. 15, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. Kelly Goonan
VIRIN: 210915-F-PB262-1006

Commercialization of space has brought these prices down. "We now have 20 of our transport satellites on firm fixed price contracts at $14.1 million apiece," he said. "That's unheard of, and we believe that price will continue to go down as commercialization keeps driving the price down."

That's only one part of it, he said. The other part of it is that access to space has also been commoditized. Commercial industry has been driving down the price to get satellites in orbit. 

Personnel work in a space control room.
Space Force Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
Guardians and Defense Department civilians assigned to the 1st Range Operations Squadron support the Inspiration4 launch inside the Morrell Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., Sept. 15, 2021 The MOC supports every space launch from CCSFS and Kennedy Space Center.
Photo By: Space Force Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
VIRIN: 210915-X-YM354-1055C

A few years ago, launches were hundreds of millions of dollars and now, they're tens of millions of dollars which is a huge difference when launching hundreds and hundreds of satellites that the DOD needs for spiral development, he said.

The end game for the space-based architecture would be, for example, to track hypersonic glide vehicles, calculate a fire control solution and send that directly to a weapon to intercept and neutralize that threat, he said. "These are the missions people have wanted to do for a long time."

A rocket soars through space.
Space Bound
A Falcon 9 rocket launches Inspiration4 toward space at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Sept. 15, 2021. Four private citizens were transported into orbit inside Space-X’s Dragon Resilience capsule. The crew, which is the first to be made up exclusively of private citizens, orbited the Earth for three days.
Photo By: Space Force Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
VIRIN: 210915-X-YM354-1279A

Tournear mentioned the Missile Defense Agency, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, along with industry partners, in playing roles in that endeavor.

Moderator Patrick Tucker, the technology editor for Defense One, added that 3D printed components and new breakthroughs in software have also brought costs down.

Tucker also pointed out that China and Russia also have access to the same technology and advantages that the U.S. has.