The U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency (SDA) on Aug. 21 said that it has awarded two contracts worth more than $1.5 billion to Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] space division in Littleton, Colo. and Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] space systems segment in Redondo Beach, Calif. to build and operate 72 satellites for the Tranche 2 Transport Layer – Beta prototype variant of the SDA Transport Layer, which is to accelerate significantly the provision of targeting information for military forces.

Each company is to build 36 satellites. Under the Other Transaction Authorities prototype deals, Lockheed Martin received $816 million, while Northrop Grumman received $733 million.

The satellites will operate in three orbital planes “with the first plane ready for launch by September 2026,” SDA said on Aug. 21.

The Tranche 2 Transport Layer satellites “will provide global communications access and deliver persistent global encrypted connectivity to support missions like beyond line of sight targeting and missile warning and missile tracking of advanced missile threats,” the agency said.

SDA Director Derek Tournear said in an agency statement that “Tranche 2 brings global persistence for all our capabilities in Tranche 1 and adds advanced tactical data links and future proliferated missions.”

“The Beta variant of the Tranche 2 Transport Layer vehicles are similar to Tranche 1 Transport Layer vehicles while also integrating advanced tactical communication technology demonstrated by the Tranche 1 Development and Experimentation System (T1DES),” he said.

In June, SDA said that it is looking for industry proposals for 100 “Alpha” satellites for the Tranche 2 Transport Layer (Defense Daily, June 30).

“The Transport Layer will be the space backbone for the Joint All Domain Command and Control infrastructure with low-latency data transport, sensor-to-shooter connectivity, and tactical satellite communication direct to platform,” SDA has said.

In February last year, SDA announced nearly $1.8 billion in awards to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and York Space Systems for 126 prototype satellites for the 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, 2022). Each contractor is to build 42 satellites to be ready for launch by September next year. Lockheed Martin won $700 million, Northrop Grumman $692 million, and York Space Systems won $382 million.

In addition, SDA said last October that York received a $200 million contract through 2031 for 12 T1DES satellites to demonstrate tactical satellite communications and Integrated Broadcast Service from low Earth orbit.

Making the Tranche 1 ground segment “multilingual” to make sense of the data from various contractors’ satellites in the Tranche 1 Transport Layer, Tracking Layer, and T1DES is a significant technical challenge, an SDA official said in May last year upon SDA’s $324.5 million award to a General Dynamics [GD] and Iridium Communications Inc. [IRDM] team for the Tranche 1 ground operations and integration segment (Defense Daily, May 27, 2022).

The General Dynamics/Iridium 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.