WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency awarded Northrop Grumman a $732 million contract for 38 communications satellites that will be part of the U.S. military’s low Earth orbit space architecture, the company announced Oct. 30.

These satellites are for the portion of SDA’s mesh network known as Transport Layer Tranche 2 Alpha that will have a total of 100 satellites. The agency selected York Space Systems to build the other 62 spacecraft. 

Northrop Grumman’s contract includes ground systems and five years of operations and sustainment. The agreement includes an incentive payment for on-time delivery.

The Alpha satellites are projected to launch in late 2026.

Northrop won order for Alpha and Beta satellites

SDA, an organization under the U.S. Space Force, is building a layered network of military satellites. The Transport Layer will serve as a tactical network to move data to users around the world, transmitting classified data such as early warnings of missile launches.

Alpha satellites carry optical communications terminals, Ka-band communications and Link 16 data transmission payloads. Transport Layer Tranche 2 also includes 72 Beta satellites that SDA recently ordered from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. These carry more complex communications payloads. 

Northrop Grumman to date has won orders from SDA for 132 satellites for the Transport and the Tracking Layer. Both layers are designed to interoperate in space using a common data standard allowing satellites made by various manufacturers to communicate with one another. 

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...