The Space Development Agency (SDA) has released its first request for proposals (RFP) for companies to build up to 20 satellites for an initial space-based sensor constellation to be fielded by 2022.

The draft RFP posted March 24 will be followed by a final RFP in early May, and the agency intends to select at least two companies to design, build and test these new systems by August, said Derek Tournear, SDA director, during an April 2 virtual industry day.

Since its inception in 2019, the SDA’s intent has been to eventually field several space-based sensor layers and one new ground-based sensor layer that will include new capabilities to ensure the U.S. military’s dominance in space.

The first layer to be fielded is a backbone data communications transport layer, with cross-linked space-based systems issuing communications directly to weapon systems and operators, Tournear previously told reporters. The goal is to upgrade the layer’s capabilities every two years, with the satellites themselves being replaced every five years (Defense Daily, Sept. 20, 2019).

The March 24 RFP involves “Tranche 0” of the transport layer and Tournear intends for those capabilities to be stood up in low Earth orbit by 2022, he said. A much larger constellation with hundreds of satellites will follow by 2024.

Tournear told reporters in a Thursday media teleconference that the SDA does not have an estimate on initial contract awards. “We want people to bid and tell us how much these satellites will cost,” he said.

The draft RFP states that bidders will be evaluated by their ability to develop satellite buses that meet national security needs, while keeping prices competitive with what is available on the commercial market. Any design or technology that is ultimately selected by the SDA would become the intellectual property of the U.S. government, per the RFP.

Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said during the virtual industry day that the transport layer has become a top priority for the Pentagon, whose individual services have turned their focus toward enabling Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) operations. The transport layer will help move data across the services, he noted.

The SDA currently sits under Griffin’s office, but is expected to eventually become part of the newly established U.S. Space Force. It requested $100 million in the fiscal year 2021 presidential budget request; Congress appropriated $25 million for the new agency in the FY ’20 defense bill.