The Space Development Agency (SDA) is to issue a solicitation in the next two weeks for 28 satellites in Tranche 1 of the Tracking Layer of the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA) to allow pinpoint monitoring of potential hypersonic missile launches by China and Russia.
In apparent recognition of that potential, Congress added $550 million in the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill for an upcoming satellite demonstration in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
President Biden signed the bill into law on March 15.
“It is understood that the U.S. lndo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) has a need for additional wide and medium field of view satellites (W/MFOV) that are not included in Tranche O or Tranche I of the NDSA,” per the conference report. “The director, SDA is directed to provide to the congressional defense committees an updated cost estimate to address USINDOPACOM’s W/MFOV requirements, to include an acquisition and contract strategy not later than 30 days after the enactment of this act.”
The Tranche 0 satellites are to launch in September, while the extra funding in the omnibus is to help allow an acceleration of the planned Tranche 1 launch from 2026 to early 2025, a senior defense official told reporters on March 15. Senate appropriators had wanted to add $750 million, which would have allowed a Tranche 1 launch in late 2024, but conferees reduced the add to $550 million–a downpayment on moving forward the launch of the $2.5 billion Tranche 1 Tracking Layer required for full coverage of potential hypersonic missiles in the Indo-Pacific, the official said.
2022 looks to be a busy year for SDA, including the launch of the 20 Tranche 0 Transport Layer satellites and eight Tranche 0 Tracking Layer overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) satellites in September (Defense Daily, Jan. 12). The several hundred Transport Layer satellites, which are to be optically linked, are to be the foundation for the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control.
2022 is also to see the integration of SDA into the U.S. Space Force under a new Space Force service acquisition executive by Oct. 1 and the upcoming solicitation for the 28 Tranche 1 Tracking Layer satellites.
While SDA hopes to accelerate its launches, electronic parts shortages highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic continue.
“Electronics…are still a concern,” the senior defense official said in response to a question on such shortages. “The supply chain is still recovering. It’s actually a bigger problem in our Tranche 1 Transport Layer than Tranche 1 Tracking just because of the number of satellites involved, because the components that are having difficulties with supply chain are more routine than the exquisite type of focal plane electronics that are necessary for the Tracking system. But, as far as the electronic boards that go into our optical cross links and some of our radios, those are still items that our primes are working pretty closely with their subcontractors to make sure they can mitigate. They all have closure plans on how to get there, but those parts are not sitting on the shelf ready to go right now.”
SDA has said that it has been working with industry to find alternate parts suppliers and designs and will use part of the congressionally added $550 million to do the same for Tranche 1 of the Tracking Layer.