Tuberville Seeks Answers on Space Force Refueling Modernization

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) questioned Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Missile Defense John Hill, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration Frank Cavelli, and Vice Chief of Space Operations Michael Guetlein during a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hearing. Senator Tuberville asked the officials about Space Force budgets for refueling in space and the integration of commercial space capabilities.

Read excerpts of Senator Tuberville’s remarks below or on YouTube or Rumble

SEN. TUBERVILLE: “We recently had a discussion with Gen. Saltzman about refueling, and he wanted $20 million […] in the [FY]2025 budget. How far are we behind China in refueling? This $20 million was only for a study. Can you explain that? I mean, $20 million for a study [rather] than $20 million more for learning how to refuel and why we need to refuel and how far behind we are? […]

GUETLEIN: “Yes, Senator. That’s a good question. And I do recall you asking the CSO about that question. Right now, we are doing the exploration of refueling in space to understand what does it actually contribute to the flight? Because there is a balance between building refueling capability into a satellite, which is semi-expensive, and buying proliferated lower cost constellations. So, we’re going to need a combination of both. We’re not sure what orbits are going to be which, we’re not sure how we’re going to do refueling as a service yet. So, the $20 million is to actually study those effects.”

SEN. TUBERVILLE: “Anybody else want to [answer]?”

CAVELLI: “And some of that funding actually goes to some demonstrations as well. Well not on space, but on the ground side, actually looking at what it takes to go build the refueling unit and some demonstrations that we’re doing on the ground side in terms of the concept as well, it’s the two space vehicles docking and to be able to actually put a refueling module in and how the refueling works. So, some of that money is going to study to see where the bigger picture is. And some of that money is going to actually design work and demonstration work.”

SEN. TUBERVILLE: “Going back to commercial capabilities – are we leveraging those the right way, General?”

GUETLEIN: “Yes Senator, we are. Sec. Hill just talked about publishing of the DOD’s commercial space strategy. On the heels of that, we published the Space Force commercial space strategy, which is all about, ‘how do I take advantage of space,’ to start filling in resiliency, capacity, and redundancy into our capabilities. What we do know today is [that] I cannot build all the kit that I’m gonna need. We’re gonna have to rely on partnerships – partnerships with allies, and partnerships with our industrial partners. If you go back to the history of the United States, we’ve always relied on our industrial base during times of crisis or conflict, and this is gonna be no different. So, we are currently designing in how to take maximum advantage of those capabilities and innovation that’s coming out of commercial, to build out what we call ‘hybrid architectures,’ which are a combination of DOD, civil, allied, and commercial platforms altogether. To get us to that capacity, that resiliency that we need in the future.”

SEN. TUBERVILLE: “There’s not a week [that] goes by that I don’t have somebody coming from Huntsville that’s building new satellites. I mean, it seems like it’s a growing trend – and whether it’s building, or refueling, or using nuclear energy in satellites, or offensive or defensive satellites. Do y’all see the same thing? I mean, are y’all overwhelmed with people that are getting in the satellite business sector?”

CALVELLI: “It’s amazing. I mean, we’re very fortunate, knock on wood, and hope it keeps this way. The space economy is starting to boom, and we’re seeing amazing entrepreneurship from across the United States [with] companies coming in. A week doesn’t go by that a new company doesn’t come in and tell me about some great concept that they’re pursuing and doing. And what’s really wonderful is that they’re also getting great investment dollars as well – to be able to start themselves off. So, we’re excited about the new space economy that’s booming.”

SEN. TUBERVILLE: “Seems like they got a lot of money they want to invest, which is fine with us, right?”

CAVELLI: “Absolutely.”

SEN. TUBERVILLE: “It helps us all.”

Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.