Updated June 14 with additional information from SDA

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency is looking to acquire as many as 10 satellites to host military payloads for experiments in low Earth orbit. 

This new procurement of satellites – known as the NExT experimental testbed – was previously part of an SDA program called T1DES but is now an independent program.

The T1DES procurement was for 18 satellites hosting industry-developed experimental payloads. The plan was to integrate them with the agency’s 126-satellite broadband constellation known as the Transport Layer Tranche 1 projected to launch in 2024. Under the new plan, SDA will move forward with the deployment of the Transport Layer and will select a separate contractor to produce 10 satellites that will host government-developed payloads for technology experiments. 

SDA will hold an industry day briefing June 22 to discuss the NExT procurement with potential contractors. The selected contractor will develop, manufacture and operate the NExT satellites and the ground systems for the duration of the contract.

The contractor also will be responsible for procuring commercial rideshare launches for the 10 NExT satellites. SDA wants the experimental payloads deployed between March 2024 and March 2025, in two planes of four and one plane of two. 

The NExT satellites will have optical crosslink communications terminals so they can connect with the Transport Layer satellites.

An SDA official told SpaceNews that NExT was originally the T1DES-X project, but it was pulled out to become its own tranche-independent program. The official said SDA still plans to purchase up to 12 T1DES satellites.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...