Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear stated on April 14 that Pentagon’s Space Development Agency is contemplating purchasing the next 150 satellites from three separate suppliers. However, that may improve once the agency reviews corporations’ offers. Tournear stated at the Washington Space Business Roundtable that a request for submissions for the agency’s Transport Layer Tranche 1 — which is a network of dozens of communications satellites in the low Earth orbit set to deploy in late 2024 — would be released in August.
The proposal would be for 150 satellites, but the SDA is yet to determine how the order would be divided. “There are potentially three prizes for those 150 satellites,” Tournear stated, “but we’re not tied to three.” “The number three is not a magical number. When the sector sees our takeover plan, I’m very interested in seeing what they have to say.”
The 150 satellites will be launched in six planes at elevations of around 1,000 kilometers. According to Tournear, SDA will ask vendors to submit bids for each of the six planes. “However, this could be all shift when internal discussions continue.” He believes that how businesses sell every other plane, for example, can influence how many awards are given out. “If we purchased a plane at a time, the prizes could range from one to around six performers.”
According to Tournear, one crucial consideration is whether vendors will construct their satellites using open standards so that they can communicate with those from other manufacturers. “That is a crucial component. The only way this succeeds is if we do so in the open architecture with open principles as well as an open architecture, where I will make people bid and gain a certain percentage of the market share.”
According to Tournear, detailed specifications for interoperability as well as satellite crosslinks would be provided shortly. According to Tournear, SDA intends its Tranche 1 satellites to cost below average $14.1 million it charged for Tranche 0 satellites. People in the Pentagon are also shocked that SDA may purchase satellites at such cheap rates relative to conventional military satellites, which cost millions of dollars each, he said. “Responses came back generally at slightly less than $14.1 million,” Tournear stated, referring to a recent request for details SDA submitted to vendors. “This also goes to demonstrate how commoditization has driven down the price of satellites, allowing for proliferation.”
Another question that SDA is discussing is the sourcing of launch facilities for the 150 satellites. Under the National Security Space Launch initiative, the department also requested the Space Force to estimate the expense of launching SDA’s satellites on the United Launch Alliance or even SpaceX rockets. “Given our budget limitations, it’s uncertain if that’s feasible,” Tournear said. SpaceX was given a $150 million deal by SDA to deploy its 28 Tranche 0 satellites, but it was a private contract, not an NSSL grant.