Satellites Space

Multiple deals for up to 150 satellites will be awarded by the Department of Defense’s space agency

The Space Development Agency intends to seek bids for up to 150 satellites that will be launched in late 2024, according to agency director Derek Tournear. Tournear stated at the Potomac Officers Club online conference that a call for proposals would be released in August and that several contracts may be issued before the year ends.

The SDA is constructing a low-Earth-orbit fleet of satellites that will include a Transport Layer of the data-relay satellites as well as a Tracking Layer of the sensor satellites to monitor and detect missiles. Last year, the agency placed orders with York Space Systems as well as Lockheed Martin for twenty transport satellites and L3Harris and SpaceX for eight tracking satellites.

The first 28 satellites, dubbed Tranche 0, are scheduled to launch in late 2022. The next 150 satellites — Tranche 1 — will be delivered in late 2024. According to Tournear, this will increase coverage and “offers some real consistency over a given region.” The details of the Tranche 1 acquisition are still being worked out, such as what sensors as well as functionality these satellites would have, according to Tournear. SDA officials will consult with military experts on March 31 to “essentially determine what the minimum acceptable product for Tranche 1 is,” he added.

The main aim of SDA is to offer satellite-based capabilities to military agencies as well as deployed forces as quickly as possible. In this vein, it intends to purchase satellite buses and payloads from existing suppliers rather than developing satellites from scratch. For the Tranche 1 satellites, vendors will be invited to request fixed-price bids. SDA’s contracting strategy, according to Tournear, aims to take benefits of economies of scale, with vendors charging less for every satellite if they receive a big order. The number of vendors chosen will be determined by the quality of the bids, according to Tournear.

The twenty transport satellites in the Tranche 0 cost an average of $14.1 million each, according to Tournear. In Tranche 1, he predicts the price per unit to be even lower. According to him, the SDA requested forecast pricing from potential vendors. “When we start mass production of hundreds of satellites, the average price would be considerably lower than $14.1 million.” The commoditization of such components, as well as the commoditization of the manner we do business, is driving this, according to Tournear.