WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency in early 2022 will seek bids for the ground segment portion of its low-Earth orbit constellation.

SDA last week issued a draft request for proposals for Tranche 1 ground operations and integration (O&I). This is wide-ranging contract to integrate ground stations and operate a network of 144 satellites known as Transport Layer Tranche 1. The contractor would set up network operations centers within government owned facilities, and operate and maintain those centers.

“We need a solid industry partner to help us pull together all the pieces and deliver capability to the warfighter,” said SDA Director Derek Tournear. 

Only one vendor will be selected for the ground systems contract. Comments on the draft RFP are due Dec. 1.

Before it releases a final O&I solicitation, the agency plans to select manufacturers to supply 126 communications satellites for the Transport Layer Tranche 1. Under a separate procurement, SDA is buying an additional 18 satellites to host various experimental payloads. 

The schedule for the selection of satellites manufacturers and the release of the ground systems RFP is being timed deliberately to prevent conflicts of interest, Tournear said last week at an America’s Future Series virtual conference. 

“Our intention is to actually get the final RFP [for ground systems integration] out as soon as we make the awards on the Transport Layer Tranche 1 [satellites] so there’s no question on organizational conflict of interest issues,” said Tournear. The agency did not want vendors to be “waiting to decide which one to bid on.”

The final RFP for ground systems integration could be out by January or February “depending on when we make the Tranche 1 awards,” Tournear said.

The conflict of interest issue would be applicable to satellite manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, L3Harris and Raytheon that are also ground systems integrators so they conceivably could bid for both the space and ground segments. 

“At this time the government is chiefly concerned about future potential OCI issues between the prime contractor for the T1 Operations & Integration contract and the prime contractor for any T1 space vehicle development contract, such as those for T1 Transport Layer (T1TL),” said the draft solicitation.

SDA said the agency and vendors would have to discuss ways to avoid a conflict of interest. “If the offeror believes that an OCI exists or may exist upon award, then the offeror shall include an OCI mitigation plan.”

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...