SDA Tranche 0 Satellites to Participate in Northern Edge Exercise Despite Delay
While the first launch of nine to 10 Space Development Agency (SDA) Tranche 0 satellites has slipped from September until December, SDA said that it still plans to have a suite of Tranche 0 Transport Layer and Tracking Layer birds ready to participate in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Northern Edge exercise in Alaska next summer.
Created in March 2019, SDA became part of the U.S. Space Force on Oct. 1, and SDA Director Derek Tournear who had reported to Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, now has his office under Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond.
The SDA in August 2020 awarded Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems contracts to each build 10 small satellites under Tranche 0 as the initial element of the Transport Layer — a new constellation of spacecraft aimed at connecting satellites in Low-Earth Orbit to serve the tactical communications needs of U.S. forces more rapidly. The Transport Layer is to be the backbone of DoD’s Joint All Domain Command and Control architecture.
L3Harris Technologies and SpaceX are each building four satellites for the Tracking Layer’s Tranche 0 under contracts awarded in October 2020. Airbus and Raytheon Technologies protested the Tracking Layer awards, but SDA, buttressed by Government Accountability Office (GAO) findings, resumed work on the initial awards in January 2021.
The Tranche 0 Tracking Layer is an initial SDA stab at monitoring threats from hypersonic and other advanced, maneuverable missiles able to change their impact point during flight.
The Tranche 0 Transport Layer and Tracking Layer satellites were to begin launch last month, but various setbacks beyond the Tracking Layer protest have pushed back first launch until mid-to-late December, Tournear said at a Washington Space Business Roundtable last month.
Technical issues included software, radios, and a shortage of microelectronic components.
At the time of the Tranche 0 contracts in late 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, “it was very difficult for us to get microelectronics…for components, such as radios,” Tournear said. “I’ll tell you. Radios were the pacing item for our Transport satellites.”
“All four [Tranche 0] companies had issues with microelectronics,” he said.
At the Northern Edge exercise next summer, the Tranche 0 satellites are to demonstrate two capstone missions. One such use case is the detection/tracking of hypersonic glide vehicles and the use of Link 16 to transmit targeting data to a ground shooter and the other mission is the fusion of data from various sensors to demonstrate global targeting for the prosecution of hundreds of targets per day in a given region of the globe.