About 18 months after contract award and six months from launch, Lockheed Martin [LMT] is on track to deliver its contingent of small communications satellites that will make up the initial element of the Space Development Agency’s new constellation of spacecraft aimed at connecting satellites in low earth orbit to more rapidly serve the tactical communications needs of U.S. forces.

Delivery of the first satellite busses will occur “in the not-too-distant future” and “we’re in production with our suppliers to actually have the hardware to begin working the assembly, integration and test,” Eric Brown, military space mission strategy director at Lockheed Martin’s Space segment, told Defense Daily last week.

The company has been meeting all the key milestones ahead of launch this September of Tranche 0 of the Space Transport Layer for the Space Development Agency (SDA), he said.

The SDA in August 2020 awarded Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems contracts to each build 10 small satellites that will be launched beginning this September and the constellation on orbit early in 2023. The Tranche 0 satellites will essentially prove out the capability of the transport layer of satellites and are paving the way for subsequent tranches.

In February, Lockheed Martin, York and Northrop Grumman [NOC] each won contracts for Tranche 1 of the transport layer, with each company responsible for building 42 satellites that will have more overall capability, including power and processing, than the initial set of spacecraft. The Tranche 1 birds are supposed to be ready to fly in September 2024.

Based on the progress with the Tranche 0 satellites, Brown said Lockheed Martin is confident in hitting all the key design milestones for Tranche 1 and has it sights set on delivering the new capabilities in just over two years.

“There’s certainly an upping of the ante but we’re already thinking 24 months out, not worrying about the immediate reviews because we have confidence in that respect,” he said.

SDA says that “Tranche 1 will provide global communications access and deliver persistent regional encrypted connectivity in support of warfighter missions around the globe by serving as the backbone for the Department of Defense’s Joint All Domain Command and Control built on low-latency data transport, sensor-to-shooter connectivity, and direct-to-weapon connectivity.”

The Space Transport Layer will ultimately have between 300 to more than 500 satellites on orbit as the National Defense Space Architecture fills in.