Griffin Taps DARPA Official to Head New Space Development Agency

Fred Kennedy

SpaceNews reports that Dr. Fred Kennedy, who is director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), has been tapped to run the Defense Department’s new Space Development Agency.

Kennedy was tapped for the post by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. The new agency will attempt to cut through Pentagon bureaucracy and red tape to develop and procure next generation military space systems more rapidly and less expensively.

According to his biography, Kennedy joined DARPA as TTO deputy director in January 2017. He had previously served as the senior policy advisor for national security space and aviation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

In this role, Dr. Kennedy advised the President of the United States on matters related to space and aviation policy; co-chaired an interagency working group for Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-Bound Near earth objects (DAMIEN); and led the “Harnessing the Small Satellite Revolution” initiative focusing his efforts on the national security space community.

Dr. Kennedy served 23 years in the United States Air Force, where he retired as a colonel. During his tenure, he served as a Senior Materiel Leader in both the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Remote Sensing Directorate and the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center’s Battle Management Directorate. Prior to that, he was the lead for Space Requirements with the Joint Staff/J-8 in the Capabilities and Acquisition Division at the Pentagon and a chief for Spacecraft Payload Development and Test and Satellite Systems and Acquisition at the National Reconnaissance Office.

From 2005 to 2008, Dr. Kennedy was a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, where he created and managed efforts around spacecraft and satellite servicing, advanced space power and propulsion systems, and innovative space technologies.

Dr. Kennedy holds a Doctor of Philosophy in electronics and physical sciences from the University of Surrey; a Master of Arts in organizational management from George Washington University; a Master of Arts in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College; and a Master of Science and Bachelor of Science, both in aeronautics and astronautics, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

SpaceNews reports the new space agency will have a modest budget and small complement of personnel.

In a draft memo obtained by SpaceNews, Griffin proposes a budget of $149.8 million for the SDA in fiscal year 2020 to fund the “initial set of next-generation military space capabilities.” The agency would start out with about 50 employees — 30 civilians and 20 military.

The idea of a Space Development Agency first surfaced in August in a congressionally directed report where [Acting Defense Secretary Patrick] Shanahan had to explain how the Pentagon would organize a new military branch for space. Griffin in an October memo said the SDA is “one of the tools we offered up as a way that we’re going to reenergize the space development culture, shorten the time cycles that we talked about, bring some new things to the table.”


Like Griffin, Kennedy has criticized the procurement culture in the Defense Department for choosing to pursue costly in-house developments instead of buying technology available in the open market at far less cost. Both have been proponents of deploying smaller, cheaper satellites in large numbers to make U.S. space systems more resilient to disruptions or hostile attacks.


The SDA planning is moving quickly as Shanahan said he wanted the agency to be in place by the end of March. Griffin’s memo does not mention the actual location of the SDA. DoD sources said Shanahan prefers that it be based in the Washington, D.C. area. Alabama lawmakers reportedly have urged DoD to move the agency to Huntsville, nicknamed “Rocket City,” where there is a large government and space industry presence.

  • Tom Billings

    “SpaceNews reports the new space agency will have a modest budget and small complement of personnel.”

    Definitely good for a group that seeks to build a different culture than has grown up over the last 70 years. From tiny acorns a mighty oak may yet grow. Still, the combination of soon-to-come growing pains and pressure to conform to helping “Our Lords in Congress Assembled” more easily get re-elected will not be an easy thicket of thorns for Mr. Kennedy to navigate. On the downside, a small group may spend all its precious manhours preparing for congressional inquisitions about “why aren’t you in *my* district yet!” Such as below:

    “Alabama lawmakers reportedly have urged DoD to move the agency to Huntsville, nicknamed “Rocket City,” where there is a large government and space industry presence.”

    While inevitable as a first request from the powerful among the Alabama delegation, this will *not* be the last. I am deeply skeptic as a first reaction, because of past behaviors in this delegation. It *is* true that much aerospace ability lies waiting to be tapped along the upper Tennessee River Valley. To put SDA itself there, however, is making a huge bet that its needed new culture can grow in that environment, when we do not know if that is true. At best, pressures to “compromise with us, …do it like we’ve always done it so well!”, …will become more intense in that environment. Putting this newly dropped and still ripening acorn straight into the tightest spot in the jaws of the D.C. nutcracker will require a diamond/titanium shell on Mr. Kennedy.

  • duheagle

    If SDA winds up in Huntsville, it will be fatally compromised from the start – which is, I’m sure, precisely what Sen. Shelby intends via making this “request.” Rapid development of low-cost solutions is pretty much kryptonite to the Huntsville Mafia. Even putting its HQ in DC would be better. But for maximum “rubbing of shoulders” with start-up NewSpace companies, SDA should be HQ’d in CA, TX or FL.

  • redneck

    Hey give them a break. Only $149.8M a year for 50 employees. How do you expect them to function on starvation wages?