Space Development Agency priorities shown in a presentation April 9 by then SDA Director Fred Kennedy.

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency on July 1 issued its first Request for Information, or RFI, asking interested contractors to submit 10-page white papers by August 5.

According to the solicitation, the SDA is looking for “ideas, methodologies, approaches, technologies, and systems related to the development of an agile, responsive next-generation space architecture.”

The SDA is a brand new agency established March 12 by then acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan and placed under the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, led by Mike Griffin. The recent departure of the SDA’s first director Fred Kennedy has stirred speculation about the future of the agency. Griffin named an acting director June 25.

Kennedy told reporters in April at the Space Symposium that he expected the SDA’s first RFI to come out over the summer.

The Pentagon requested $149 million for the SDA in fiscal year 2020. For now, unless Congress approves funding transfers from other organizations, the agency will not be able to start any actual programs or hire people. “Any responses received to this request for information are solely for information and planning purposes,” said the solicitation. “Responses to this RFI may be used to support potential new efforts.” It noted that the SDA will hold an “Industry Day” in the near future.

The SDA’s objective is to “rapidly develop and deploy a threat-driven, next-generation space architecture to counter near-peer efforts to contest or deny our space-based systems,” said the RFI. The agency is looking for ideas and concepts applicable to a wide range of space systems — satellite buses, payloads and launch concepts “that can contribute to an agile, responsive next-generation space architecture.”

A notional architecture the SDA developed under Kennedy is predicated on the availability of a ubiquitous data and communications transport layer and assumes the use of small, mass-produced satellites. The architecture includes seven layers:

  1. Space transport layer: A low-latency data and communications proliferated “mesh” network to provide 24/7 global communications.
  2. Tracking layer: To provide early warnings of advanced missile threats.
  3. Custody layer: To keep watch over time-critical targets.
  4. Deterrence layer: To provide space situational awareness of, and access, to the cislunar space.
  5. Navigation layer: To create an alternative positioning, navigation and timing system for GPS-denied environments.
  6. Battle management layer: An artificial intelligence system to help deliver space sensor-derived data directly to tactical users.
  7. Support layer: Mass-producible ground command and control systems, user terminals and and rapid-response launch services.

Concepts proposed by vendors should align to one or more of the seven layers, said the RFI. “SDA prefers comprehensive solutions” and “open architectures” such as buses that support multiple payloads, and payloads and software that can be integrated into multiple buses. Proposals should “leverage commercial capabilities, existing or planned.” Cost estimates are preferred but not required.

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...