SpaceX, L3Harris Get Second SDA Tranche 0 Contracts

SpaceX, L3Harris Get Second SDA Tranche 0 Contracts

The Space Development Agency (SDA) made two awards today for another layer of its Tranche 0 National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA). SpaceX and L3Harris will build satellites for the tracking layer of the space-based portion of the missile defense system. It is SpaceX’s first contract to build national security satellites rather than launching them.

SDA was created in March 2019 to provide fast, responsive, resilient solutions to national security space requirements.  It is focused on NDSA, a “mesh network” of hundreds of satellites in several layers networked together to provide missile warning, tracking, and other missile defense capabilities. The goal is to make data available to the warfighter “at or ahead of the speed of the threat.”

The NDSA system of satellites includes layers for Transport (tactical data transfer), Battle Management, Tracking, Custody, Emerging Capabilities (Deterrence), Navigation, and Support.

On August 31, SDA Director Derek Tournear announced awards to Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems for the Transport Layer.

Today’s awards are for the Tracking layer of satellites equipped with Wide Field of View (WFOV) Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) sensors. The firm fixed price contracts are $149 million to SpaceX and $194 million to L3Harris for a total of four satellites each that will connect to the Transport layer satellites via optical intersatellite links.

SDA illustration of the tracking layer.

L3Harris is a well established defense contractor. Better known for its rockets, SpaceX is not a newcomer to building satellites as its Starlink constellation attests, but this is its first award to build national security satellites.

Tournear said in a statement that “These awards represent the next major step toward fielding the National Defense Space Architecture. The SDA Tracking Layer is an integral part of the Department’s overall overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) strategy to detect, track, and defeat advanced missile threats. We are confident these fixed-price awards will help us deliver the initial tranche of the Tracking Layer on schedule.”

Tournear describes the two pillars of the NDSA as proliferation (launching many small satellites instead of a few large, expensive, vulnerable ones) and spiral (iterative) development.  The plan is to deliver the NDSA in “ever-increasing tranches on two-year cycles.” This Tranche 0 capability is to be delivered in the 4th quarter of FY2022.

SDA reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD/R&E) as does the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is responsible for U.S. missile defense systems. MDA is developing its own Medium Field of View (MFOV) space sensors through the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program. DOD is seeking to move HBTSS to SDA, but Congress wants it to remain at MDA.

SDA explained the connection by saying it is developing low-cost proliferated WFOV spacecraft that “provide missile warning and tracking information to national defense authorities, and tracking and cueing data for missile defense elements.” MDA is developing high-resolution HBTSS MFOV spacecraft that can “receive cues from other sources, including WFOV [space vehicles], and will provide low-latency fire control quality tracking data on hypersonic threats for hand over to missile defense sensors and engagement by missile defense weapons.”

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