Hoeven: Air Force Approves Space Networking Center, Low-Earth Orbit Satellite Mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base

As Defense Approps Committee Member, Senator Working to Secure Funding to Ensure Center is Operational By FY 2024

GRAND FORKS, ND. – Senator John Hoeven today announced that the U.S. Air Force has formally approved Grand Forks Air Force Base to house a Space Networking Center, which will support the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) new low-Earth orbit (LEO) mission and serve as the backbone for all U.S. military communications across the globe. Earlier this year, Senator Hoeven announced that SDA was working to stand-up the satellite mission at Grand Forks, and today the Air Force formally approved it. As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven has been working to secure funding to ensure the center can be operational by Fiscal Year (FY) 2024.

Over time, the mission could include not only operating SDA satellites but linking them with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which would complement the base’s role in the Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.  

“Grand Forks is the ideal location to house this new Space Networking Center,” said Hoeven. “We’ve been working with SDA and Air Force to secure this new mission, which provides essential support for our national security and will help our nation stay ahead of our adversaries in developing critical new technologies.”

Securing SDA Operations in North Dakota

Senator Hoeven, along with Senator Kevin Cramer, has been working with SDA, including Director Derek Tournear, to identify funding priorities to help advance the new satellite networking center. The senators also discussed this priority with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Jr. during his visit to Grand Forks in February.

Following this, Hoeven hosted SDA Director Dr. Derek Tournear in North Dakota to outline efforts to establish the new center and announce the new laser communications project. The senator then joined Tournear to review launch operations at Cape Canaveral, where the SDA launched five satellites central to the space networking center and the General Atomics project.

The satellites will fly in low-Earth orbit and be used to demonstrate the capabilities of a planned, broad network of satellites. Of these, the two Laser Interconnect and Networking Communication System (LINCS) satellites will demonstrate laser communications between satellites and MQ-9 Reaper, which is flown by the 119th Air Guard Wing in Fargo.

Today’s announcement is part of Hoeven’s efforts to strengthen the missions based in Grand Forks and position the base for future growth include:

  • Maintaining Grand Forks Air Force Base as the lead for all U.S. Air Force Global Hawk operations.
  • Securing a commitment from the Air Force to keep Grand Forks and its 319th Reconnaissance Wing (RW) at the core of its ISR efforts.
    • The 319th RW will also be responsible for developing and training a new crew force and expanding operational employment tactics for future ISR systems.
  • Upgrading the Global Hawk Block 40 to support the widest possible set of missions, including improving its ability to reroute around adverse weather.