The agency’s director, Derek Turner, said on May 26 that the Space Development Agency is preparing to launch at least 13 satellites by the end of June. This will be the second SDA launch of Tranche 0 satellites for the Disseminated Low Orbit Group. Slice 0 is a demonstration group of 28 satellites. The first 10 spacecraft, eight communications satellites manufactured by York Space and two missile detection satellites manufactured by SpaceX, were launched on April 2 with a SpaceX Falcon 9.
Tournear said in an interview that the SDA initially planned to release all remaining 18 in June, but made some changes to the manifesto. Space News . The upcoming mission, scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, in late June, will launch 11 communications satellites (10 by Lockheed Martin and one by York Space) and two missile tracking satellites. Satellites manufactured by SpaceX.
Turner said in the statement that there are two Tranche 0 York satellites, but one will likely remain on the ground before SDA can use it to test the software.
Four L3Harris Tranche 0 satellites were planned to be launched, but were pulled from the manifest due to production delays, he said. Four satellites will fly into orbit as part of a separate mission planned by the Missile Defense Agency. MDA is preparing to launch two prototypes for the Hypersonic and Ballistic Space Tracking Sensor (HBTSS), one made by L3Harris and the other by Northrop Grumman.
Turner said the SDA and MDA are working closely on missile tracking and missile defense architecture. The agencies have agreed to deploy the L3Harris wide-view satellites designed for SDA in the same orbit as the medium-view HBTSS missile defense satellites. This will help both institutions understand how to integrate future sensor networks, Tournear said.
According to him, the new plan was a “win-win”. “When the MDA agreed that we could launch our L3Harris satellites, it was an easy choice.” MDA has yet to announce the launch date of the HBTSS mission.
Top 10 SDA satellites in good condition
Of the 10 satellites launched on April 2, both SpaceX’s tracking satellites reached their intended orbits about 1,000 kilometers above Earth.
“We may have tracking data soon,” Turner said. “We have to make sure we have the necessary payload and software to do the monitoring task.”
He said the eight York satellites have yet to be put into orbit because SDA needs more time to test Link 16 payloads on those satellites.
Link 16 is a data exchange and radio communications network widely used by the US military and NATO allies.
After the York satellites complete the orbital upgrade, SDA will test inter-satellite laser communication lines that require greater distance between satellites.
“Our plan is to test, test and have everything ready for the first mission demonstrations in late June. Early July,” Tournear said.
The Tranche 0 satellites will give military users an opportunity to try out the technology and better understand the missile tracking and data transmission capabilities of LEO satellites, which the SDA calls a “warrior immersion shield.” Following the deployment of Slice 0, SDA plans to launch dozens more satellites each month, starting with Slice 1 in late 2024.
The tracking layer is designed as a global network of sensors to protect against Russian and Chinese ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The data collected by the missile tracking satellites will be sent to the transport layer via optical channels. This ensures that if a missile threat is detected, data about its position and trajectory are securely transmitted in space and forwarded to military command centers.
SpaceX’s latest tracking-level satellites
Tournear says the four tracking satellites built by SpaceX for Tranche 0 will likely be the company’s last. SpaceX did not bid for the Tracking Layer Slice 1 contract, which L3Harris and Northrop Grumman won. To meet the required 1,000-kilometer orbit of the SDA satellite, Tournear said it has built four satellites using a custom bus instead of SpaceX mass-producing it for Starlink, the company’s Internet arm.
To monitor hypersonic missiles at all stages of flight, the Department of Defense determined that satellites 1,000 kilometers above Earth would be better positioned to see these targets. Tournear said SpaceX did not bid the SDA for Slice 1 because the requirements cannot be met with the Starlink shuttle, but “we are working with them to see how they can bid in the future,” said Tournear.
SDA is seeking input from Internet LEO companies such as SpaceX, Amazon, and others on how they can provide “background” in low Earth orbit to support military data communications.
“We’re looking at how commercial providers can extend the common DoD space data transport layer and have full integration with the SDA data transport layer,” said Tournear. “So there’s definitely such an action.”
SDA’s vision is to deploy “broadcast satellites” that will allow the SDA spacecraft to communicate with commercial remote sensing and communications providers.
“We are seeking ideas from companies on how they can connect their company offerings to the transport layer,” he said, “so that we can achieve a low-latency, tactical data connection, as well as extending or backing up with commercial systems.”
Source: Port Altele
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