WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency said it received initial images from its first missile-warning satellites launched April 2 to low Earth orbit.

“First tracking sats, built by SpaceX, achieved first light: infrared images using wide-field-of-view sensors,” the agency said June 14 in a twitter post.

The two tracking satellites were part of SDA’s first Tranche 0 launch, which also included eight data-transport satellites made by York Space Systems.

SDA plans to build a proliferated low Earth orbit network of data-transport satellites and a constellation of infrared sensor satellites to provide a defense shield against Russian and Chinese ballistic and hypersonic missiles. 

York Space satellites in the SDA constellation stack. Credit: York Space

The eight York satellites are “performing as expected,” SDA said, although one of them had an “assembly issue.” These transport satellites will remain in their initial orbit to conduct tests of their Link 16 data-communications terminals. “Will raise orbit once initial tactical comms testing is done,” said the agency.

Second launch delayed

SDA was expecting to launch the second batch of Tranche 0 satellites in late June but that mission is likely to be delayed by at least a month, the agency said.

There are 13 satellites in SDA’s second launch.

“We are targeting the second launch near the end of July,” an SDA official said in a statement June 16.

“While we’ve experienced some delays, SDA is working collaboratively with partners to gather critical elements required for the remainder of Tranche 0 to perform its intended tactical data demonstrations,” the official said. 

The 13 satellites include 10 Lockheed Martin Transport satellites, two SpaceX Tracking satellites, and one York Transport satellite.

Four L3Harris Tracking satellites that are also part of the Tranche 0 constellation will not launch with the other Tranche 0 satellites and are being moved to a future launch with other Missile Defense Agency sensor satellites.

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...