Lockheed Martin has reached a pivotal milestone with the successful completion of a critical design review for a communications satellite intended for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency (SDA).
The project at hand involves Lockheed Martin’s role in constructing 42 satellites for the Tranche 1 Transport Layer, a mesh network situated in low Earth orbit. This intricate network is designed to provide support for U.S. military operations and is being developed in collaboration with the U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency.
Lockheed Martin secured a substantial contract worth $700 million in February 2022, tasked with producing these satellites. The selected satellite buses are manufactured by Terran Orbital, enhancing the project’s collective expertise. Notably, the Tranche 1 Transport Layer initiative encompasses a total of 126 satellites, including contributions from other prominent space industry players such as Northrop Grumman and York Space Systems.
A groundbreaking aspect of the Tranche 1 Transport Layer is its pioneering use of smaller and more cost-effective satellites for global military communications and data relays. This approach marks a significant departure from traditional methods, highlighting the evolving landscape of defense communication technology.
Kevin Huttenhoff, Lockheed Martin’s Senior Manager for Space Data Transport, highlighted the collaborative effort between Lockheed Martin and SDA in thoroughly vetting the satellite and ground designs, which encompassed not only Lockheed Martin’s contributions but also those of various suppliers.
The critical design review process itself was notable for its meticulousness. In order to simulate the actual satellite, Lockheed Martin employed 3D printing to create a full-scale replica of the Tranche 1 satellite, providing a comprehensive visual representation for evaluation.
Furthermore, the review encompassed an optical communications terminal interoperability test, an integral element due to all SDA satellites being equipped with optical terminals for in-space communication.
Looking ahead, SDA is targeting late 2024 for the commencement of launches for the Tranche 1 Transport Layer, marking a significant step forward in the implementation of this innovative satellite network. Lockheed Martin’s achievements in this endeavor further solidify its reputation as a leading figure in aerospace technology and defense innovation.
As part of a distinct contract valued at $187.5 million, Lockheed Martin undertook the construction of 10 satellites designated for the Tranche 0 Transport Layer. Alongside these, one satellite from York Space and two missile-tracking satellites developed by SpaceX were also slated for inclusion. Initially planned for a June launch, these 13 satellites, now including Lockheed Martin’s contributions, are rescheduled for a late August launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
However, this launch experienced delays due to encryption security concerns, which prompted coordination with the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA’s certification is imperative for encryption systems utilized in Department of Defense (DoD) platforms. The SDA official explained that productive exchanges with the NSA have resolved the encryption matters, instilling confidence in the successful resolution of these challenges and paving the way for the anticipated launch by the end of the month.
Lockheed Martin’s involvement in this venture has been seamless, with Kevin Huttenhoff, Senior Manager for Space Data Transport, confirming that the 10 satellites produced by Lockheed Martin are in their final stages, prepared for shipping. This aligns with the company’s commitment to delivering robust and advanced space technologies for defense and communication purposes.