Rendering of missile-tracking satellites in low Earth orbit.
Rendering of missile-tracking satellites in low Earth orbit. Credit: Raytheon Technologies

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency awarded Raytheon Technologies a $250 million contract to build seven missile-tracking satellites for the agency’s low Earth orbit constellation, the company announced March 2. 

The seven satellites will be part of SDA’s Tracking Layer Tranche 1, a U.S. Defense Department constellation of infrared-sensing satellites intended to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles launched by foreign adversaries. 

In addition to Raytheon’s seven satellites, the Tracking Layer Tranche 1 will have 14 made by Northrop Grumman and 14 made by L3Harris. Raytheon’s satellites will become the fifth plane of the constellation.

SDA originally planned to only have 28 satellites in Tranche 1 but was able to add seven more after Congress increased the agency’s 2023 budget by $250 million specifically to pay for missile-tracking satellites. 

Satellites requested by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

Defense appropriators said they added funds in response to an urgent request from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to accelerate the deployment of missile-tracking sensors over the region. Congress last year added $500 million to SDA’s budget for the Tracking Layer, and the agency moved up the first launch of Tranche 1 from the original 2026 target to 2025. 

The award to Raytheon is significant for the company that originally bid for a Tracking Layer contract in 2020 but lost out to other competitors, and later lost a bid protest

Raytheon said the seven satellites under this new contract will be built on Saturn-class microsatellite buses made by its subsidiary Blue Canyon Technologies. The sensor is a wide-field-of-view overhead persistent infrared instrument developed by Raytheon, and the electronics payload is from another Raytheon subsidiary, SEAKR Engineering.

The $250 million contract also includes ground operations and support services. 

“Developing a resilient and affordable proliferated satellite constellation in low Earth orbit will improve our ability to track emerging threats like hypersonic missiles,” said Dave Broadbent, president of space & C2 at Raytheon Intelligence & Space.

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...