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York Space, Lockheed, and Northrop Win SDA Contracts for Prototype Mesh Transport Layer

By Rachel Jewett | February 28, 2022

Northrop Grumman’s rendering of the Space Development Agency Tranche 1 Transport Layer mesh network. Photo: Northrop Grumman

York Space Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman won Space Development Agency (SDA) prototype contracts to demonstrate mesh network of optically interconnected satellites for a data transport system. SDA announced the contract awards — worth a combined $1.8 billion — on Feb. 28.  

The mesh network is called the Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL), which forms the initial tranche of the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA) — an ecosystem of hundreds of satellites operating on Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). The NDSA will comprise seven capability layers for performing data communications, tracking hypersonic and cruise missiles, and providing enhanced battle management, navigation, ground support, and deterrence from space. The Space Development Agency was set up in 2019 to disrupt military satellite acquisition and its singular focus for the next few years is to get the NDSA on orbit. 

SDA said the T1TL will provide global communications access and deliver persistent regional encrypted connectivity, serving as the backbone for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). 

The companies will build the 126-satellite network, 42 satellites each, in two near-Polar Low-Earth Orbital planes. Each space vehicle must be equipped with: an optical communications terminals enabling a minimum of four simultaneous optical communications links; Link 16 communications payload, Ka-band radio frequency communications payload; and BMC3 module enabling on-orbit data processing, storage and fusion.

The first plane of the T1TL constellation is expected to be launched by September 2024. 

York Space Systems prototype agreement has a potential value of approximately $382 million. Lockheed Martin’s prototype agreement has a potential value of approximately $700 million, and Northrop Grumman’s approximately $692 million.

“We are honored to again have SDA’s confidence in executing the agency’s vision,” said Dirk Wallinger, CEO of York Space Systems. “Their competitive, fixed-price procurements leverage York’s private capital investments to deliver low-risk, industry-leading constellations today and well into the future.”