L3Harris Technologies [LHX] believes it has a solid design for four satellites in Tranche 0 of the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) Tracking Layer, but the company, as others in the space industry, is facing parts shortages that may delay programs.
“From a technical perspective, there are not that many challenges,” Bill Gattle, the president of space systems for L3Harris, said of the four satellites in a Sept. 10 phone interview. “We have a very solid design. We are very confident our design will work. I think what we’re seeing in the marketplace is supply chain issues, due to COVID. You think about the rockets currently being impacted by oxygen, believe it or not. You look across the industry there’s a lot of electronic parts that are in short supply. We and others are looking at alternate parts that are available.”
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at last month’s Space Foundation Space Symposium that hospitals’ need for liquid oxygen for ventilators to keep patients with the COVID-19 virus alive has meant a shortage of liquid oxygen propellant for rocket providers’ launches and that SpaceX launches will see the effects.
“We have, I think all companies do, a long list of electronic parts that are in short supply in the marketplace,” Gattle said on Sept. 10. Such parts include field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), integrated circuits that are configurable once delivered. “There’s just a lot of demand in the market,” Gattle said. “The space market is growing, putting pressure into the supply chain of these parts. These foundries get hit with the pandemic, with COVID shutdowns. Most people believe that we won’t see a tremendous relief of the parts shortages for another year because there’s such demand and impact from the pandemic.”
SDA’s Tranche 0–the so-called “warfighter immersion” tranche–will consist of 28 demonstration satellites, 20 in the Transport Layer by Lockheed Martin [LMT] and York Space Systems and eight in the Tracking Layer by L3Harris and SpaceX (Defense Daily, Aug. 25).
SDA plans have called for the Tranche 0 satellites to launch in September next year. The agency is “to mix and match” for the September launch, “depending on who’s ready,” Gattle said.
“They’ve told us they’re watching to see who’s going to be ready to be on that first [September] launch,” he said. “There’s going to be a second launch early in 2023 so if you don’t make it on the first one, there’s a second one. It will really depend on the progress of each of the four companies to meet that [first] launch. They would like to have at least one [satellite] from every company so that they can show that each one has made it.”
Military forces are to use the SDA Tranche 0 satellites in exercises and to develop tactics.
Those eight Tranche 0 Tracking Layer satellites will be an initial SDA stab at monitoring threats from hypersonic and other advanced missiles.
The backbone of the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA), the Transport Layer, is to provide the targeting of ground and maritime targets, while the Tracking Layer–the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Reconnaissance (Next-Gen OPIR) constellation by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman [NOC]–is to establish effective targeting of advanced missiles.
The Transport Layer mesh network satellites are to provide the rapid targeting of ground and maritime targets to military forces over Link 16. The optically-connected satellites will also supply position, navigation and timing to U.S. and allied forces in GPS-denied environments.
In addition, SDA is working to aid future intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) satellites in the Custody Layer to fuse ISR tracking with the Transport Layer to devise the best targeting solution.
In contrast to Tranche 0, SDA’s Tranche 1 is to be an operational constellation of NDSA.
L3Harris said last month that the company is expanding its satellite production capacity in Florida to include unclassified satellites and to better meet customer’s needs for more rapid deliveries.
The company said the boost in manufacturing will allow it to develop and test the Air Force’s experimental Navigation Technology Satellite-3, and enable the company to develop and integrate three sizes of small-to-medium responsive satellites to meet urgent Defense Department needs in months, rather than years.
By the end of this year, L3Harris has said it will have the capacity to build six satellites per month.
The geostationary orbit NTS-3, which is to demonstrate next generation positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) technologies and to test reprogrammable software-defined receivers for use by military forces, is one of four Department of the Air Force Vanguard programs to hasten the fielding of advanced technologies.
The technologies on NTS-3 are to counter attempts by adversaries to jam PNT signals from GPS and other PNT satellites. L3Harris is building the first NTS-3 for launch in 2023.
“On NTS-3 we have reprogrammable processor and receivers,” Gattle said on Sept. 10. “We have proven on the ground already that we can change waveforms. We can reprogram our satellite avionics, if you will. On the ground demos, we’ve shown we can do it…In terms of NTS-3, it’s ready to go. We will show on orbit that reprogrammability and the full digital payload.”