SAN FRANCISCO – Mynaric, SA Photonics, Skyloom and Tesat are providing optical communications terminals for Space Development Agency Tranche 0 Transport and Tracking layer satellites scheduled for launch late this year.

Derek Tournear, director of the U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency, displayed the names of the Tranche 0 optical communications terminal providers Oct. 13 at the MilSat Symposium in Mountain View, California. Not all of the firms had previously announced their roles in the SDA program.

“Across the four Tranche 0 teams (2 Transport, 2 Tracking), a total of four different [optical communications terminal] vendor solutions were carried through” preliminary design review, according to the slide that named the four vendors.

In his keynote, Tournear underscored the importance optical communications for SDA’s proliferated low-Earth orbit constellation architecture. Transport Layer satellites will share data among themselves and with other satellites through optical crosslinks, and connect with ground and airborne terminals via optical and radio frequency communications.

To ensure SDA satellites from multiple vendors work together, the agency has adopted Nebula networking and optical communications standards.

“I’m going to do competitions for every Tranche, every layer, every time and it’s going to be full and open,” Tournear said. “The only way we can do that is if I make sure all the satellites work together as a network. People can launch new satellites and they also plug into this network.”

With testbeds at the Naval Research Laboratory, SDA is confirming optical terminals from different vendors meet the standards.

“If you can plug-and-play and network with those test beds, you can feel comfortable going out and building a bunch of these” terminals, Tournear said.

Companies also are building and sharing their own optical terminal test beds.

“God bless them. We welcome that too,” Tournear said. “That’s another way to do it.”

Information on alliances between satellite and optical terminal manufacturers have been released piecemeal.

Mynaric revealed plans Oct. 18 to provide optical terminals for the satellites Northrop Grumman is building for SDA’s Tranche 1 Tracking Layer. Northrop Grumman and L3Harris Technologies are building 14 prototype missile warning and missile tracking satellites apiece for the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer.

Germany-based Mynaric is establishing production and testing of optical communication terminals in Los Angeles.

Reston, Virginia-based CACI acquired SA Photonics in December to pursue military and commercial markets for small, lower cost optical terminals.

Skyloom, an Oakland, California company working with Honeywell to supply optical terminals for York Space Systems satellites, does not see itself as an optical communications terminal manufacturer.

“We are an optical space data transport provider who uses our fundamental building block of optical communications terminals and our capabilities to create this optical space data relay network,” Campbell Marshall, Skyloom chief operating officer, told SpaceNews. 

In September, Skyloom and Space Compass, a joint venture between NTT and Sky Perfect JSAT, announced plans to begin relaying data from low Earth orbit to the ground through geostationary orbit in 2024.

Airbus Defence and Space subsidiary, Tesat-Spacecom of Germany, plans to begin manufacturing optical communications terminals in the United States next year.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...