Space Force cancels classified military communications satellite project

The Falcon 9 rocket that carried the Space Development Agency's new satellites, shortly before launch. (photo courtesy Space Development Agency).

The Falcon 9 rocket that carried the Space Development Agency’s new satellites, shortly before launch. (photo courtesy Space Development Agency).

By Nicholas Slayton,
Published by Task & Purpose, 18 February 2024

The move comes even as Space Force pushes to build out its orbital infrastructure.

The United States Space Force is pulling the plug on a classified military communications satellite program due to cost and schedule overrun as the service refocuses its mission and operations.

Citing regulatory findings and others involved, Bloomberg reported that Space Force canceled a program with defense contractor Northrop Grumman to develop and field a new satellite for military communications purposes. According to Bloomberg, the program was canceled due to rising costs, trouble actually building the satellite and several delays on the schedule. Apparently it was enough for the military to cancel the program even as it works to launch as many satellites into orbit as it can. 

Given the classified nature of the project, the exact details remain unclear, including how it would be different from the other military communications satellites Space Force already has or is building. However it appears to be an expensive initiative; the cancellation of this specific satellite project is expected to cut Northrop Grumman’s space portfolio by approximately $2 billion. The contract was initially awarded in 2020. 

The decision to scrap the secretive project was led by US Air Force Assistant Secretary for Space Acquisition Frank Calvelli, per Bloomberg, as Space Force prepared its planned budget for the next fiscal year.

The move comes the same week as Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced a major plan to refocus both the Air Force and Space Force to”deter and, if necessary, prevail in an era of Great Power Competition.” The 24-point plan doesn’t specifically address Space Force’s launches into orbit but it did lay out goals for the service, including new standards to test Guardians under “contested conditions” as well as create a new Space Futures Command to develop new systems, test them and conduct wargames.  

Since its creation, Space Force has been very open about its focus on launching and fielding new satellites and updating the military’s space infrastructure. Along with testing its uncrewed space plane, the service has been launching new communications and tracking satellites into orbit. In fact, Space Force has launched several into space this past year, ranging from tiny ones meant to help with communications to satellites designed to track hypersonic missiles. It’s also looking to monitor any unusual or unidentified launches or movement in space proper. 

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