Space Development Agency briefing chart. Credit: SDA

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency wants to hear from satellite manufacturers about their capabilities to support the agency’s plans to deploy a large network of spacecraft in low-Earth orbit. 

SDA in a request for information issued April 10 asks companies that intend to compete for an upcoming contract to confirm that they will be able to meet specific technical requirements. A key concern of SDA is to to make sure satellites from different vendors are interoperable.

The next procurement of satellites by SDA is expected later this year. The agency intends to buy 150 satellites to be launched in late 2024. The plan is to award multiple contracts as SDA wants to create an open marketplace where vendors can compete for orders. The concern, however, is to make sure that satellites from different manufacturers can talk to each other.  

“SDA is seeking industry feedback on its ability to support a homogeneous constellation design,” said the request for information. 

SDA already has acquired 28 satellites for its Tranche 0 constellation. The next batch of 150 satellites will be Tranche 1.

SDA expects the Tranche 1 constellation to be deployed in six near-polar circular planes with tens of satellites at 1,000 km altitude in each plane, the agency said. “SDA is interested in deploying a homogeneous constellation design, with all space vehicles equipped with baseline mission payloads, and is seeking feedback on industry capability to design and develop these integrated space vehicles.”

A critical requirement for SDA satellites are optical crosslinks. Any future military network has to be able to pass huge amounts of data from satellite to satellite, from space to the ground and from space to aircraft in flight.

Satellites for Tranche 1 must have optical inter-satellite links and the ability to establish and maintain at least three optical links concurrently, with an objective of five or more.

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...