COLORADO SPRINGS — Northrop Grumman completed a critical design review of a Space Development Agency communications satellite in 13 months, a fraction of the time required for traditional space programs.
“It’s paradigm changing for programs that have this type of capability,” Blake Bullock, vice president for Northrop Grumman’s Communication Systems business unit, told SpaceNews. “For a more standard military communications satellite program, you’re typically looking at multiple years to get to a critical design review.”
Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems won SDA contracts in early 2022 to deliver 42 satellites apiece by 2024 for the Space Development Agency’s Transport Layer Tranche 1, a global communications network in low-Earth orbit. In addition, Northrop Grumman and L3Harris are supplying SDA with 14 missile-tracking satellites apiece. Northrop Grumman also is responsible for providing the ground system for the Tracking and Transport constellations.
To meet the challenge of building 58 satellites in less than three years, Northrop Grumman is relying on its own expertise and that of industry partners.
Airbus U.S. Space & Defense is supplying Northrop Grumman with 42 buses for the Tranche 1 communications satellites. Mynaric is supplying optical terminals for the 14 Tranche 1 missile-tracking satellites.
“Partnerships are a key part of why we are able to move at a different pace,” Bullock said.
Louis Christen, Northrop Grumman Proliferated Space Operating Unit director, added, “We’ve done laser communications for decades and we’re extremely capable in it, but Mynaric has a niche in this high-production, lower-cost-target range.”
To produce satellites quickly for SDA, Northrop Grumman “streamline processes as well, finding the right balance of verification and the right level of design rigor to allow us to move forward,” Christen said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the Tranche 1 Transport Layer awardees.