U.S. space agency may operate satellites from Grand Forks Air Force Base

Sydney Mook, Grand Forks Herald
·2 min read

Apr. 16—A U.S. space agency may soon be operating satellites from Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The Space Development Agency, headquartered at the Pentagon, is working to bring a new low-Earth orbit satellite mission to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, according to a news release from Sen. John Hoeven's office.

As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven is attempting to secure funding to ensure the operations center can be operational by the 2024 fiscal year.

Over time, such a mission could include not only operating SDA satellites, but also linking them with unmanned aerial systems, which would complement the base's role in the Air Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

"We're working with SDA on the steps we need to take to make the Grand Forks Air Force Base one of the key links for the planned, new fleet of low-Earth orbit satellites," Hoeven said in a press release. "Our efforts with the SDA will help ensure a strong future for the Grand Forks Air Force Base, both by establishing a space mission and by improving its ability to support Air Force UAS and ISR operations."

Lea Greene, public affairs chief at GFAFB, said although the base cannot comment on budget discussions or potential future missions, these "opportunities don't happen organically." Greene said they "are the result of years, even decades, of work by Grand Forks Air Force Base supporters and forward thinkers."

"We are proud to collaborate with the titans of remotely piloted aircraft and have found a home within the UAS tech hub of North Dakota," Greene said. "Together, these innovations make us all more agile and able to adapt to the future."

The Space Development Agency, established in March 2019, is tasked with developing and fielding new military space capabilities for the nation. The organization falls under the U.S. Department of Defense, but is scheduled to officially become part of the Space Force in 2022.

Hoeven and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., have been working with the Space Development Agency to identify funding priorities to help advance the new mission.

The senators discussed a satellite operations center with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr. during his visit to Grand Forks in February.

SDA Director Derek Tournear will visit North Dakota again later this spring and discuss the process for standing up a satellite operations facility at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Tournear previously visited Grand Forks in October and toured UND's space studies department.

Tournear said Grand Forks was chosen for its expertise in tactical aviation and drone operations, Space News reported recently.

SDA will also be flying satellites from the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, Space News reported.