ORLANDO, Fla. — Rocket Lab on May 6 unveiled the suppliers it selected to support the production of 18 satellites for the U.S. military. 

The company is manufacturing satellites for the Space Development Agency under a $515 million contract. These will be part of a low Earth orbit network of military satellites known as Transport Layer Tranche 2 Beta, projected to launch in mid-2027.

The Space Development Agency, an organization under the U.S. Space Force, is procuring a mesh network in space known as the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. The Transport Layer will be made up of hundreds of interconnected communications satellites to enable beyond line-of-sight connectivity for military forces. 

For SDA’s satellites, Rocket Lab will use its own solar panels, structures, star trackers, reaction wheels, radio, flight software, avionics, and launch dispensers. As prime contractor, Rocket Lab also will oversee the integration of the payloads and other subsystems. 

  • CesiumAstro will provide the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radio frequency (RF) communications payloads. 
  • Mynaric will supply the optical communications terminals. 
  • SEAKR Engineering, a subsidiary of Raytheon, will provide the Tactical Satellite Communications (TACSATCOM) software defined radio and network encryption system.
  • Collins Aerospace will supply the waveform for the software defined radio, which is the software required to transmit and receive TACSATCOM.
  • Redwire Space will provide the antennas and RF hardware.
  • Parsons will supply the ground system for managing operations of the 18 satellites.

“As we embark on a new era as a leading satellite prime, we have methodically executed on our strategy of developing and acquiring experienced teams, advanced technology, manufacturing facilities, and a robust spacecraft supply chain to make this possible,” said Rocket Lab’s vice president of space systems Brad Clevenger. 

Rocket Lab, based in Long Beach, California, specializes in small-satellite launch services with its Electron rockets that operate from spaceports in New Zealand and Virginia. The company also manufactures components and spacecraft for government and commercial customers. The contract with SDA is the largest to date for Rocket Lab’s satellite operations. 

The satellite buses for SDA will be a derivative of those Rocket Lab is developing for the communications company Globalstar. 

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...