WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency announced plans to build a new satellite testing facility at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. This would expand the agency’s footprint at Grand Forks, one of two major U.S. sites selected for SDA’s satellite ground control operations. 

SDA, an agency under the U.S. Space Force, is working to deploy a mesh network in low Earth orbit projected to have hundreds of communications, data-relay and sensor satellites to support military users around the world.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and SDA Director Derek Tournear in a news release Aug. 7 said the new facility will be a 25,000 square-foot satellite test and checkout center, expected to be completed in 2026.

SDA two years ago announced its two major satellite operations centers would be built at Grand Forks and at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Hoeven, a member of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, said the Pentagon’s 2023 budget includes $4 million to start construction of the test and checkout facility. Congress in 2022 approved $18 million for the construction of the two operations centers.

Hoeven noted that an additional $4 million is being proposed in the Senate’s version of the 2024 defense spending bill to continue construction of the new facility, and he expects another $4 million to be added in 2025.

Contractors selected to build ground ops centers

SDA last year awarded a $324.5 million contract to a team led by General Dynamics Mission Systems — along with Iridium Communications, KSAT, Emergent and Raytheon Technologies — to build and operate the ground control centers. 

“Development of our Tranche 1 Space Networking Operations Center is well underway,” Tournear said. “The addition of the SDA test and checkout center on the base will allow us to support near-continuous launch into the future.” 

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...