Space Development Agency
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SDA Invests in LEO Satellite Constellation

April 22, 2022
A space-based LEO T1TL network comprised of 126 optically connected satellites will provide the U.S. military with global low-latency, high-data-rate communications and other services.

Satellites are becoming more of the global communications infrastructure and the Space Development Agency (SDA) ensured the trend would continue. The space acquisition arm of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) recently awarded three prototype/R&D agreements worth a total of about $1.8 billion to York Space Systems, Lockheed Martin Space, and Northrop Grumman Space Systems for a satellite-based Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) network.

The network will be comprised of 126 optically connected low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites operating as part of a low-latency, high-data-rate communications system. The awards propose that the satellites be ready to launch by September 2023. The six-plane T1TL network (see figure) forms the initial warfighting capability tranche of the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA).

Derek Tournear, SDA’s director, said, “These awards will drive delivery of the NDSA’s data and communications Transport Layer through a proliferated constellation of relatively small, mass-producible space vehicles in low Earth orbit.”

He added, “Through our solicitations, we aim to create a marketplace through two-year spiral development and regular, full, and open solicitations for each tranche so that industry can plan, develop, and grow accordingly. We look forward to collaborating with our industry partners to deliver the capabilities the warfighter needs through Tranche 1 and beyond.” 

The T1TL network will provide encrypted, global communications, serving as the backbone for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) with the satellites’ low-latency data transport, sensor-to-shooter connectivity, and direct-to-weapon platforms connectivity.

York Space Systems was awarded a potential $382 million for the development of a T1TL prototype constellation with 42 satellites in two near-polar LEO planes. The firm’s CEO, Dirk Wallinger, explained, “We are honored to again have SDA’s confidence in executing the agency’s vision.”

Lockheed Martin Corp. was awarded a potential $700 million for a prototype T1TL constellation of 42 satellites in two near-polar LEO planes while Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems was awarded potentially about $692 million, also for a 42-satellite prototype T1TL constellation.

About the Author

Jack Browne | Technical Contributor

Jack Browne, Technical Contributor, has worked in technical publishing for over 30 years. He managed the content and production of three technical journals while at the American Institute of Physics, including Medical Physics and the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology. He has been a Publisher and Editor for Penton Media, started the firm’s Wireless Symposium & Exhibition trade show in 1993, and currently serves as Technical Contributor for that company's Microwaves & RF magazine. Browne, who holds a BS in Mathematics from City College of New York and BA degrees in English and Philosophy from Fordham University, is a member of the IEEE.

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