SPACE JUST IN: Space Development Agency to Award First Satellite Contracts by August

Date: April 2, 2020 | Outlet: National Defense Magazine | By Mandy Mayfield

The Space Development Agency plans to have the first constellation of tracking and communications satellites in low-Earth orbit by 2022, the agency’s director said April 2.

The first step will be to a “tranche zero constellation,” Derek Tournear told reporters during a press call. “We’re soliciting notionally 20 satellites to make up that mesh network, and we plan to have that on orbit fourth quarter of FY ’22.”

The agency was established last year in hopes of wielding a new approach to building space-based capabilities. Former SDA Director Fred Kennedy established the agency’s first priority as creating a meshed communications network in low-Earth orbit that will serve as the backbone for all its other proposed systems, he announced in April at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. The announcement marked the first proposed military satellite communication system since the Transformational-Satellite program was cancelled in 2009.

The agency released a draft request for proposals to members of industry earlier this year for the transport layer, which is intended to be the main support for the joint all-domain command-and-control communication system moving forward, Tournear said. The plan is to solicit feedback from the draft RFP up until April 17.  He anticipates releasing a final RFP May 1. The agency wants to have companies on contract in August to begin procuring the 20 satellites that will make up the tranche zero transport layer, he said.

There are six goals, he said. “The first goal is to demonstrate low-latency data transport for the warfighter and to show that we can do that over that optical cross-like mesh network,” Tournear said.

Second, the system should demonstrate the ability to take data from a space sensor — such as the department’s tracking layer or radar sensor layer — and relay that data to the transport satellites, then directly to warfighters on the ground, he said.

The third goal is to demonstrate limited battle management, command, control and communication functionality, he said.

The aim is to demonstrate that the system has the functionality to upload new software to perform a “massless payload” mission onboard, and demonstrate that it can perform data fusion and other data processing activities, he said. In tranche zero, the activities would be demonstrated on the ground, with the goal of the activities being performed onboard in space during tranche one, which is slated to be on orbit by 2024.

The fourth goal would be to transfer integrated broadcast system data across the mesh network directly to the warfighter, he said. IBS integrates old and new broadcast systems in order to transmit critical data to battlefield commanders.

The fifth goal would be to store, relay and transmit Link-16 data. “We would go directly down via existing tactical data links, directly to a warfighter in theater,” he said.

Six would be to maintain a common time reference “In essence, have the transport layer operate independent of GPS to be able to maintain its own timing signature,” Tournear said.The agency is planning on “multiple performers” building the satellites and does not yet have a price tag on the contracts. “We don’t have a preconceived notion on what these initial awards will be. We want people to bid and say exactly how much it’s going to cost them to build out these satellites,” he said.