Space Force Building Combat Ready Forces Using More Money Than NASA

The U.S. Space Force’s $30 billion budget request for Fiscal Year 2024 is about $3.9 billion over what was enacted for the service in FY2023. More than 60% of the Space Force budget, about $19.2 billion worth, is aimed at research, development, testing and evaluation. $27.2 billion is the requested budget for NASA’s 2024 fiscal…
Space Force Building Combat Ready Forces Using More Money Than NASA

The U.S. Space Force’s $30 billion budget request for Fiscal Year 2024 is about $3.9 billion over what was enacted for the service in FY2023. More than 60% of the Space Force budget, about $19.2 billion worth, is aimed at research, development, testing and evaluation.

$27.2 billion is the requested budget for NASA’s 2024 fiscal year. If approved by Congress, this would represent a 7.1% increase over 2023 levels. The budget would grow funding for NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, Mars Sample Return, Earth Science, and technology research and development.

To meet the challenges posed by adversaries, Saltzman told lawmakers that Space Force efforts in FY2024 will focus on fielding combat-ready forces, amplifying the Guardian spirit and strengthening the partnerships the Space Force relies on to accomplish its mission.

“My first priority is to build resilient, ready, combat-credible space forces,” Saltzman told lawmakers. “To do this, we are accelerating the pivot towards resilient satellite constellations, ground stations, networks and data links.”

The general said the Space Development Agency’s “Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture,” or PWSA — previously called the “National Defense Space Architecture” — is a prime example of that effort.

The PWSA includes hundreds of satellites, delivered in “tranches” every two years.

Each tranche will provide more capability than the last. That total system involves a “mesh network” of hundreds of optically interconnected satellites in orbit that make up its “transport” layer. The PWSA also includes six additional layers: tracking, custody, deterrence, navigation, battle management and support.

Also part of building a resilient, ready and combat-credible force, Saltzman said, is emphasizing cybersecurity and preparing Space Force Guardians to detect and defeat cyber-attacks against networks, systems, ground stations, datalinks and satellites.

“Tranche 0 (FY22)—Warfighter immersion: The minimum viable product is demonstrating the feasibility of the proliferated architecture in cost, schedule, and scalability towards necessary performance for beyond line of sight targeting and advanced missile detection and tracking.

Tranche 1 (FY24)—Initial warfighting capability: Regional persistence for tactical data links, advanced missile detection, and beyond line of sight targeting.

Tranche 2 (FY26)—Global persistence for all in Tranche 1. This will incorporate lessons learned from operating gen 0 for at least two years.

Tranche 3 (FY28)—Advanced improvements over Tranche 2. This includes better sensitivity for missile tracking, better targeting capabilities for BLOS, additional PNT capabilities, advances in blue/green lasercom and protected RF comm.

Tranche 4 (FY30)—“Continual advances to the layers, including additional capabilities identified as current or future threats to the warfighter.”


The NDSA contains two separate constellations: the Transport and Tracking layers. The first one is the Transport Layer, which will form a mesh network in LEO connected by optical inter-satellite links. These links, which transmit data via laser, can transmit data at light speed using a very narrow beam that is much more difficult to intercept than traditional radio transmission.

“The transport layer is really kind of the heartbeat of the NDSA,” said Turner. All the information transmitted across the architecture will travel through the transport layer. Then, the layer will route it to where it needs to be on the ground.


The Tracking layer is the second constellation, and it does the actual remote sensing and Earth observation from LEO.

Tracking Layer birds will be fitted with infrared sensors to spot and track missile threats. These satellites will be connected to the Transport Layer through optical links, and their data can be transmitted across the mesh network and downlinked to the ground.

Tranche 0 will include eight Tracking Layer satellites. The ratio between Transport and Tracking layer satellites is expected to remain roughly proportional as additional tranches are launched and hundreds more satellites are added to the constellations.


The Navigation layer is not actually a constellation itself, but rather an added benefit of the mesh network formed by the Transport Layer satellites. By nature of the mesh network spanning the globe, the Transport satellites will be able to transmit precise position, navigation and timing (PNT) data.

“We’re not trying to replace GPS under any circumstance—it’s a core capability that will remain a core capability,” Turner said. “But what we’re doing is for those days when GPS is out of band, that we will have the ability for the warfighter to still know what time it is to the accuracy that they need on a global basis, and to know where they are to the accuracy that they need.

Battle Management

Each Transport Layer satellite carries a payload hosting a computer to dynamically manage interactions between the satellites as well as the individual layers. This package is referred to as the Battle Management layer. This layer, which will be hosted on most or all NDSA satellites, is tasked with on-orbit processing (or “edge computing”), which can reduce the pain points associated with relaying data.


Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) functions are the domain of the Custody Layer. The ISR satellites are responsible for detecting and tracking targets on the ground.

Emerging Capabilities

The final layer of the architecture leaves a little wiggle room for the development of new space technologies. As of this writing, a potential space domain awareness capability is wrapped into this category, meaning that the SDA is still looking into the possibility of deploying or purchasing awareness capabilities.

Transport Deployment

The U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency (SDA) is targeting launches of its Tranche 2 data communications Transport Layer (T2TL) Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites in 2026 as part of the future Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA).

“The T2TL establishes initial launch capability (ILC) in September 2026 with the launch of a plane of T2TL-Beta SVs [space vehicles] and continues with an approximately year-long, monthly launch campaign involving the multiple T2TL variants,” SDA said in an Apr. 28 business notice. “As these SVs are placed into their insertion orbits, SDA will undergo a continuous checkout and commissioning process to prepare Tranche 2 for acceptance into operations conducted out of the Operations Centers (OCs) at Grand Forks, AFB (OC-N) and Redstone Arsenal, AL (OC-S).”

The Tranche 2 Transport Layer (T2TL) has three parts. The SDA last month released the solicitation for the first piece, called Beta. Responses are due by May 10. The SDA anticipates three vendors for 72 total satellites for Beta. The primary mission for the Beta satellites is UHF and S-band tactical satellite communications using current radios. Beta is also to provide a mesh network with laser communication, laser communication to the ground, and Ka-band communication to the ground.

The next solicitation, for 100 Link 16-enabled T2TL Alpha satellites, is to be released this summer.

SDA plans to issue a final T2TL Gamma solicitation early in 2024. Those satellites are to include UHF and S-band and enhanced, anti-jam waveforms.

In February last year, SDA announced nearly $1.8 billion in awards to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and York Space Systems for 126 prototype satellites for the Tranche 1 Transport Layer — the SDA’s first stab at fielding operational satellites to provide resilient, high volume, minimal lag time communications for military missions. Each contractor is to build 42 satellites to be ready for launch by September next year.

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