Rendering of a Maxar 1300 series satellite bus. Credit: Maxar Technologies

WASHINGTON — Maxar Technologies filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office Oct. 8 challenging a Space Development Agency solicitation seeking industry bids for 126 satellites. 

SDA on Aug. 30 issued a request for proposals for the Transport Layer Tranche 1 — a mesh network of small communications satellites in low Earth orbit projected to start launching in 2024. 

Proposals were due Oct. 8, the same day Maxar filed the protest. 

A spokesperson for SDA said in a statement to SpaceNews that the agency is “working with the GAO to achieve fast, accurate and equitable resolution to the protest received on the agency’s Tranche 1 Transport Layer solicitation. SDA is committed to full and open competition and the agency understands protests are a potential and not uncommon part of that process.”

A Maxar spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews that the company “is proud to be able to offer its commercially leading space capabilities to the Space Development Agency’s Transport Layer Tranche 1 request for proposal. Maxar wants to ensure that the government is following its own rules in connection with the procurement and is confident that the SDA is committed to complying with the FAR.”

FAR is short for federal acquisition regulations.

Maxar is known in the U.S. national security space sector for its high-resolution satellite imagery business but it is also a spacecraft manufacturer. The company in 2017 absorbed the satellite manufacturer that used to be known as Space Systems Loral and rebranded it as Maxar. That business traditionally made large communications and Earth observation satellites and is a relative newcomer to the small satellite industry.

Maxar built 19 SkySat small imaging satellites for Planet and is currently completing production of six WorldView Legion small imaging satellites for Maxar’s own satellite imagery business.

Maxar in 2018 partnered with Thales Alenia Space on a proposal to build Telesat’s broadband low Earth orbit constellation. Thales Alenia and Maxar later split up and pursued separate bids for the Telesat network. Telesat last year selected Thales Alenia to build its constellation. 

Several industry sources familiar with SDA’s satellite procurement said they were unaware of what might have prompted Maxar’s protest but noted that bid challenges are to be expected in a program of this size and importance. SDA said as many as three suppliers could be selected to produce 126 satellites. An SDA Tranche 1 award would be a marquee win for any satellite manufacturer and the industry expects the competition to be fierce. 

SDA last year selected Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems to produce the first 20 satellites of the Transport Layer Tranche 0. Agency director Derek Tournear said SDA’s strategy is to create a stable market that attracts multiple manufacturers and incentivizes private investments. 

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...