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SDA Readies for Second Award for Tranche 2, After York Space Systems’ Win

By Frank Wolfe | October 24, 2023

      The transport layer in the Space Development Agency’s National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA). Photo: SDA

      The U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency (SDA) expects to award a second contract, possibly next week, for the Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Alpha satellites. This comes after last week SDA Director Derek Tournear said that York Space Systems won a $615 million firm-fixed-price Other Transaction Authorities (OTA) contract to build 62 of the 100 Alpha satellites.

      The latter satellites are to be able to transmit beyond line-of-sight Link 16 data to military forces from space.

      The full $615 million is contingent upon York Space Systems earning “an on-time delivery incentive built into the agreement,” SDA said.

      SDA and York have not issued press releases on the award, but SDA said that it will “once all Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Alpha awards are finalized.”

      In an Oct. 19 address to the Silicon Valley Space Week’s Milsat Symposium, Tournear said the SDA is “in negotiation for the second vendor for the remaining 38 [Tranche 2, Transport Layer-Alpha] satellites.”

      “We should have that closed early next week,” he said.

      In August, SDA awarded Lockheed Martin’s Space division in Littleton, Colorado. and Northrop Grumman’s Space Systems segment in Redondo Beach, California, more than $1.5 billion for 72 Tranche 2 Transport Layer – Beta satellites — 36 by each company.

      On Tuesday, Terran Orbital announced it received a subcontract from Lockheed Martin to build the satellite buses. Lockheed will then conduct payload integration and jointly operate the satellites with SDA. Terran Orbital is also currently building 42 buses for Lockheed Martin to help the company fulfill its Tranche 1 Transport Layer contract, currently scheduled for a late 2024 launch.

      While the Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Alpha satellites are to use Link 16, the Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Beta satellites are to transmit over Ultra High Frequency S-band for tactical satellite communications, and the future Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Gamma satellites are to use an advanced tactical data link.

      While SDA had planned on 44 Gamma birds, Tournear said on Oct. 19 that the requirement is now 24 Gamma satellites, as SDA is in discussions with a third, possible Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Beta vendor to put the advanced tactical data link on 24 additional Beta satellites.

      On orbit now are 23 SDA Tranche 0 satellites. A recent launch included 10 Lockheed Martin Transport Layer satellites, one York Space Systems’ Transport Layer satellite, and two SpaceX Tracking Layer satellites. The April launch included eight York Space Systems Transport Layer satellites and two Space X Tracking Layer satellites.

      SDA has said that it plans to launch the remaining four Tranche 0 Tracking Layer satellites by L3Harris Technologies by the end of this year in a collaborative launch with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on its Hypersonic Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor program.

      The SDA Transport Layer satellites are to provide rapid sensor to shooter data, while the Tracking Layer satellites are to provide a significant leap in the detection and tracking of hypersonic and ballistic missiles.

      While SpaceX’s first two Tranche 0 Tracking Layer satellites have been providing daily imagery and the second two are to become operational by next week, SDA is waiting to receive International Telecommunication Union (ITU) approval to transmit Link 16 data, Tournear said on Oct. 19.

      “The Link 16 antennas are deployed,” he said. “All of those payloads have gone through test and checkout. They’re ready to do the transmit. As soon as we get ITU approval, we’ll start to do that over international waters with one of our mission partners in a foreign country, but we’re not going to be able to get approval anytime soon to do that over the national airspace. We’re working back and forth to get that approval with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], but other than paperwork we’re ready to go on Link 16.”

      Contractors for the Tracking Layer include L3Harris, Northrop Grumman, RTX and SpaceX, while York Space Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman are contractors for the Transport Layer.

      A version of this story was first published by Defense Daily.