Calvelli calls for first launch of new satellites within three years of contract signing

By Shelley K. Mesch / December 15, 2022 at 3:59 PM

The Space Force and its industry contractors should be able to launch new satellites in no more than three years after signing a contract, the service’s acquisition chief said Thursday.

As pacing threat China continues to increase its capabilities in the space domain, the United States needs to speed its development and fielding processes to stay ahead, Assistant Air Force Secretary for Space Acquisitions and Integration Frank Calvelli told attendees of a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon.

“I would like to challenge my folks that the timeline between contract award and first launch should be three years maximum. Hopefully less,” he said.

Calvelli pointed to efforts by the Space Development Agency to send up its Transport Layer Tranche 0 satellites. Even though the launch date for those platforms has been pushed into next year, he said the program is still on an impressive path.

“When you think about the fact when they awarded the contract and they launch the first set in March is still about 30 months from [a signed contract] to launch,” Calvelli said, “which is still pretty damn fast.”

SDA Director Derek Tournear confirmed to SpaceNews last week that the first of two sets of launches originally scheduled for this month will instead be scheduled for March, and the second set will be pushed to June.

This is the second schedule slip for the program. Tranche 0 had first been scheduled to launch in September before being pushed back.

The launches were pushed due to supply chain problems, Tournear has said.

As mandated by Congress, SDA formally joined the Space Force in October, and Calvelli said he’s already seeing a positive culture shift in the service.

“When I speak with my friends at Space Systems Command, they talk about doing things more like SDA,” he said. “To me, even though it’s only been a few months that [SDA has] been a part of the Space Force, we’re already seeing success and people trying to emulate their business model.”

Calvelli on Oct. 31 posted a memo outlining his nine tenets of space acquisition to more rapidly create a resilient architecture for the U.S. in the space domain and meet the pacing challenge.

The threat from China has grown because of the country’s ability, both on the defense and commercial sides, to launch smaller systems more frequently and to proliferate its systems across the orbital layers.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is their strengthening numbers,” Calvelli said of China.