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

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency is requesting bids for launch services for its first batch of 28 satellites. 

Bids are due Nov. 5, according to a request for proposals issued Oct. 6.

The 28 satellites are a mix of small and medium spacecraft of different sizes — 20 are for a Transport Layer of data-relay satellites and the other eight are for a missile-warning Tracking Layer.

The SDA manifest will be divided into two planes of 14 spacecraft each in two circular near-polar orbits at an altitude of 950 kilometers, says the request for proposals. 

The agency will make one award to the provider that offers the “best value” based on several criteria such as price, schedule and past performance.

The solicitation does not specify what type of launch vehicle SDA is looking for, but the requirements of the mission appear to favor a large rocket that can carry multiple satellites, said an industry source.

Each of the two orbital planes are about 5 tons worth of spacecraft, and SDA wants all 28 to be launched within six months starting around September 2022. That would make it difficult for a smallsat launcher to meet that requirement, the source said. And an emphasis on past performance would disqualify startups with no track record. The source noted that SDA will be making only one award for the full mission set, so there is no opportunity to compete for a subset of the spacecraft.

The SDA solicitation says the agency would consider allowing the launch provider to include non-SDA payloads in a rideshare launch. “The government will not restrict the launch service provider from using any additional payload capacity for other purposes or clients, as long as the SDA schedule, orbital parameters, and security requirements are still met, contingent upon SDA approval.”

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...