The Space Development Agency (SDA) resorted to a cost-plus contract, rather than SDA’s normal fixed price arrangement, in awarding General Dynamics [GD] $324.5 million on May 26 for the ground Operations and Integration (O&I) segment for Tranche 1 of the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA).

For the O&I contract, General Dynamics is teamed with Iridium Communications Inc. [IRDM], Raytheon Technologies [RTX], Kongsberg Satellite Services USA (KSAT-USA)–the U.S. division of Norway’s KSAT, and Florida-based Emergent Space Technologies, Inc.

While Iridium uses proven, low-risk commercial technologies in its mesh network for low Earth orbit satellites, the cost plus approach in the General Dynamics O&I contract reflects the development risk for the NDSA ground segment, namely the envisioned integration of various contractors’ satellites in the Tranche 1 Transport Layer, Tracking Layer, and Demonstration and Experimentation System (T1DES), an SDA official told reporters on May 26.

“The idea is that each space vehicle vendor has their own unique solution,” the official said. “We’re bringing together at least three Transport and then some Tracking and T1DES so you can have approximately six different solutions. Each vendor has a different way of talking to their satellites and managing the information that goes up and down the satellites.”

“The ground system needs to be multilingual in order to be able to work with all these different satellites and create a unified network,” the official said. “That’s where the risk is. It’s having a ground segment that knows how to talk to all these different space vehicles and then creating the common language–the interface controls that need to be established between the various space segments and space layers to the single ground architecture.”

The risk is “in the development of those interfaces and ensuring that when those interfaces are established between the various space vehicle providers and our ground architecture that we’re all talking in some language, that we all have some decoder ring in order to be able to talk to each other and create that unified network in space,” the official said.

The O&I contract covers work through January 2025 with options through September, 2029.

The General Dynamics team is to provide the necessary network operations and command and control for SDA satellite operations centers at Grand Forks AFB, N.D., and Redstone Arsenal, Ala. to tie together the Tranche 1 satellite constellations (Defense Daily, Jan. 12).

In addition, under the O&I contract, the General Dynamics team is to build four optical ground terminals and antennas for 8 Ka-band ground entry points and two S-band ground entry points.

SDA issued a final O&I solicitation in January and received seven proposals, the SDA official said on May 26.

On Feb. 28, two weeks before SDA’s third anniversary, the agency announced nearly $1.8 billion in awards to three contractors for 126 prototype satellites for the NDSA’s Tranche 1 Transport Layer–the SDA’s first stab at fielding operational satellites to provide resilient, high volume, minimal lag time communications for military missions (Defense Daily, Feb. 28).

The Transport Layer is to be the backbone of the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept.

The optically-linked satellites are to be ready for launch in September 2024. Each contractor is to build 42 satellites.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] in Littleton, Colo., won $700 million, Northrop Grumman [NOC] in Redondo Beach, Calif. $692 million, and Denver-based York Space Systems won $382 million.

The NDSA is to have 300 to 500 satellites.