Kennedy Leaving Space Development Agency Months After Taking the Helm

Fred Kennedy, shown here in an official Defense Department portrait, is resigning his role as Space Development Agency director. DOD photo.

Fred Kennedy, a publicly enthusiastic proponent of the Pentagon’s vision for a new space architecture, is stepping down from his role as inaugural director of the fledgling Space Development Agency after only a few months.

“Dr. Fred Kennedy has been serving on a detail from [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] as the director of the Space Development Agency,” Defense Department spokeswoman Heather Babb said in an emailed statement June 21. “An acting director of Space Development Agency will be announced soon. … I don’t have any more information on a [replacement] timeline at this time.”

Kennedy did not respond to a request for comment. Under his watch, the organization planned to put the first pieces of a large constellation of small satellites on orbit in 2022.

“There is no change to the mission or activities of the SDA,” Babb said. “SDA will drive the department’s future threat-driven space architecture and will accelerate the development and fielding of the new military space capabilities necessary to ensure our technological and military advantage in space for national defense.”

The Pentagon established the SDA in March and plucked Kennedy from DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which he ran following more than a decade of experience in space systems research and management. He was tasked with proliferating hundreds of satellites in low Earth orbit for missions like resilient communications and missile defense, appearing in Washington, D.C., even as some military leaders like former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson pushed back on the proposal and worried SDA would duplicate efforts at DARPA and the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

“According to two sources, [Kennedy] and Griffin were not seeing eye to eye on how the SDA should be run,” Space News reported June 21. “Several sources told Space News that the agency might not get the same level of support it got from Shanahan and that there are still factions in the Pentagon that don’t see a real purpose for the SDA and view it as duplicative of what other organizations do in the Air Force.”

Kennedy reportedly submitted his resignation on June 19 and will return to DARPA, according to Space News. That shrinks the already tiny office to one government employee: At a June 14 AFA Mitchell Institute breakfast, Kennedy said his agency had hired its first worker and was collaborating with about two dozen federally funded research and development center personnel.

He is the most recent of three key research and space officials who are departing their jobs. John Stopher, the Air Force Secretary’s space adviser, will step down effective July 19, according to SpaceNews. Inside Defense reported June 16 Griffin pushed out Strategic Capabilities Office Director Chris Shank amid fights about the fate of that organization.