Space Force Evolution, Budgets, and Guidance

Global Positioning System III. Source: Lockheed Martin and U.S. Space Force

In the final FY23 appropriations and the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress provided funding and policy direction guiding evolution of the U.S. Space Force with an increased overall budget and staffing and a series of required reports on institutional-building and programmatic efforts. The funded FY23 R&D budget provides a guideline for acquisition priorities and future procurement opportunities.


U.S. Space Force, the newest uniformed military service, is a separate organization within the Department of the Air Force, analogous to the way the U.S. Marine Corps sits within the Navy Department. Total end strength per the FY23 appropriations Joint Explanatory Statement is 8,600 personnel compared to a whopping 452,000 for the Army. President Biden’s $24.7 billion FY23 Space Force Budget was heavily tilted towards research, development, test, and evaluation.

After successfully pushing for higher FY23 overall defense spending totals, Congress approved $26.3 billion for the Space Force, a 7% boost. That total includes $16.6 billion for RDT&E, an increase of 5%. Procurement increased 23% to $4.5 billion. FY23 is the first year where Space Force’s entire budget has been broken out separately from the Air Force budget. The changes from FY22 are dramatic. Only operation and maintenance had significant amounts budgeted that year.

The appropriators provided some guidance to go with the numbers. Specifically, the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence were directed to utilize the Space Force launch enterprise phase 2 contract (United Launch Alliance LLC and SpaceX) for National Security Space Launch missions unless they certify to the appropriate congressional committees that commercial launch is in the national security interest and provide a rationale.

The appropriations committees directed the Air Force to provide a funding plan for launch and operation and maintenance activities for the Wideband Gapfiller Satellites program having provided $464 million for the program, $442 million (over ten times) more than Biden’s FY23 Budget.

Other significant program changes approved in FY23 appropriations include:

  • Space Development Agency Launch (procurement of launch services for satellites) – $746.3 million, incorporating a $216 million increase for missile warning and missile
  • Special Space Activities (classified procurement program) – $871.1 million, with an increase of $66.1 million and a small reduction for excess prior-year
  • National Security Space Launch Program (SPACE) – Engineering & Manufacturing Development (space launch service RDT&E) – $234.1 million, with $110 million in increases compared to Biden’s budget for payload processing facility and space mobility and logistics.
  • Resilient Missile Warning Missile Tracking (RDT&E including Low and Medium Earth Orbit and ground control elements) – $1.172 billion, $142 million more than Biden’s budget with funds shifted away from ground control elements to LEO and MEO
  • Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) (RDT&E into improved missile warning, missile defense, battlespace awareness, and technical intelligence collection capabilities) – $3.343 billion, a decrease of $126.2 million.

Chart I. Sources: FY23 Appropriations, DOD, FBIQ. Note: totals may not add due to rounding.


The Armed Services Committees provided policy guidance on several fronts. First, the NDAA bill text and report require the Secretary of the Air Force to brief the congressional defense committees on the pros and cons of setting up the Space Analysis Warfighting Center as either a direct reporting unit to the Chief of Space Operations or a field operating agency.

Other provisions included:

  • 1538 – requires the Secretary of the Air Force to review the current staffing plan for Space Force cyber squadrons.
  • 1601 – changes current law to require the Chief of Staff, Space Force in coordination with the Commander of U.S. Space Command to “establish requirements for defense and resilience prior to any new major satellite acquisition program achieving Milestone A approval, or the equivalent.”
  • 1604 – amends current law to require the development of tactically responsive space capabilities. (FY23 appropriations funds the RDT&E line for Tactically Responsive Space at $50 million – no funding was requested).
  • Report language (based on Senate Sec. 1502) – requires submission to Congress of a comprehensive strategy for Space Force by the Secretary of the Air Force, in consultation with the Chief of Space Operations by June 30, 2023.
  • Report language requiring a briefing on the National Security Space Launch

The NDAA report encourages “further interagency collaboration on options to improve the infrastructure at Department of Defense launch ranges and spaceports.”

The tale of the numbers is only part of the story as Space Force matures and the shift of functions from Air Force is completed. NDAA excerpts focus on collaboration between Space Force, Air Force, the intelligence community and the commercial space sector. As this transition continues, Space Systems Command has taken charge of major acquisitions—satellites, launch vehicles—from Air Force Life Cycle Management. That means new faces in new places for industry to navigate. Expect the mission priorities that led to the creation of Space Force—technological advances in missiles, satellite, anti-satellite, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies and nuclear proliferation —to drive budgets (especially RDT&E) for Space Force.

In the short-term, mission execution will rapidly increase data collection from space platforms and create a “swimming in sensors, drowning in “data” problem. Over the next five years, solving that problem should significantly increase demand for high-speed quantum computing and artificial intelligence.