Tag Archive for: Space

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is planning to launch 72 data-transport satellites in 2026, which will be part of the Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta portion of a United States military mesh network. According to Frank Turner, SDA’s technical director, these satellites will have new and advanced capabilities, including direct-to-weapon communications. This represents a significant step forward in the development of military satellite technology.

The Tranche 2 Beta satellite order worth $1.5 billion was split between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, both of which had previously been awarded contracts for Tranche 1 Transport Layer satellites. SDA, an organization under the U.S. Space Force, is working on creating a mesh network of military satellites in low Earth orbit known as the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. This network includes both a data transport layer and a missile-tracking sensor layer.

During the contract award process for Tranche 2 Beta, SDA received six bids. Turner mentioned that the agency would have preferred to involve more vendors, but the complexity of the mission and the specialized requirements, such as the need for advanced radios and waveforms for military tactical communications, limited their options. As a result, the selection of experienced Department of Defense (DoD) contractors was necessary.

SDA has expressed a desire to collaborate with a broader base of prime contractors and avoid favoring incumbents. However, due to the unique and complex nature of the payloads in Tranche 2 Beta, only a few companies in the industry possess the capabilities to meet these specific mission requirements.

The Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta satellites are designed to integrate with radios using Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and S-band frequencies, which are essential for military and intelligence operations in the field. Additionally, each satellite is equipped with an Integrated Broadcast Service (IBS) payload. IBS is a legacy Department of Defense (DoD) network used to transmit tactical and strategic intelligence as well as targeting data from various sources. Typically, IBS payloads operate from geosynchronous satellites like the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), which was developed by Lockheed Martin.

However, the challenge for the Transport Layer, according to Frank Turner of SDA, is to provide the same IBS service from low Earth orbit, which has never been attempted before. This is a complex task that involves developing the necessary technology and infrastructure to facilitate these communications from satellites in low Earth orbit, rather than the traditional geosynchronous orbit. Turner emphasized that this is a significant and challenging endeavor.

The primary goal of these capabilities is to fulfill the requirements and requests of the warfighter. They are looking for direct-to-weapon connectivity that can enable real-time engagements and communication with various assets in the field.

Furthermore, the Beta satellites will be tasked with establishing what Turner described as “extremely difficult” contacts with aircraft and missiles in flight. This indicates that the mission involves not only providing data connectivity but also facilitating real-time, dynamic communication and coordination with moving targets in the sky, adding an additional layer of complexity to the mission.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is taking a commercial-like approach to build the Department of Defense’s (DoD) mesh network. This approach involves collaborating with a broad array of suppliers specializing in small satellites and laser communications terminals. SDA aims to create a flexible and diverse ecosystem of partners to meet its evolving satellite communication needs.

Frank Turner explained that the decision to choose two incumbent providers for Tranche 2 Beta was not taken lightly and was the result of extensive deliberation. SDA’s preference is to expand its supplier base and work with a wider range of contractors in the future.

SDA is actively engaging in discussions with military leaders to determine the necessary capabilities for Tranche 3 of the Transport Layer. This indicates the agency’s commitment to continually adapting and enhancing its satellite network to meet evolving defense requirements.

Currently, SDA is preparing for the launch of its second batch of Tranche 0 satellites and plans to commence launching 126 Tranche 1 satellites in September 2024. These Tranche 1 satellites will be equipped with inter-satellite optical links and are considered the infrastructure of the network. Tranche 2, which follows, will enable the network to support advanced communications capabilities, marking a significant milestone in SDA’s mission to create a robust and effective satellite communication system for the DoD.

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.

Through the Slingshot 1 mission, Aerospace Corp. has exemplified the efficacy of open standards and nonproprietary interfaces in simplifying the process of satellite integration and operation. This success was evident after over a year of on-orbit functioning, as affirmed by David Hinkley, an operator for Aerospace Slingshot payloads, who stated that Slingshot has achieved significant accomplishments.

The Slingshot 1 project featured 19 distinct payloads, each developed independently and seamlessly integrated within a few weeks before being launched in July 2022. The launch utilized a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket for a 12-unit cubesat.

This efficient integration was facilitated by Handle, a modular plug-and-play interface. Handle enables payloads to access power from the satellite bus and establish communication not only with the host satellite but also with other payloads. This connectivity operates on a peer-to-peer network, allowing every payload to establish communication pathways. Alexander Utter, Slingshot’s lead for command and data handling, and the principal investigator for Slingshot payload SatCat5, elucidated the nature of this system.

As Slingshot embarks on its extended mission phase, Aerospace Corp. is leveraging the plug-and-play design of Slingshot’s architecture for supplementary missions and encouraging satellite operators to contemplate its adoption.

While the Slingshot standard has not yet received official endorsement from international standards bodies, Alexander Utter expressed confidence in its progress beyond the current technological norm.

After slightly over a year in space, the Slingshot payloads persist in showcasing self-sufficiency, robotic capabilities, and onboard processing. Furthermore, the satellite is outfitted with a GPS transponder, a hydrogen peroxide thruster, and a laser communications downlink.

The universal interface of Slingshot has enabled payloads to effectively share resources.

To illustrate, consider Vertigo, a modular attitude control system designed to orient Slingshot toward specific ground targets. This system accesses processing capabilities via Slingshot’s local area network. Consequently, Vertigo doesn’t require an independent high-capacity processor of its own.

Another innovative payload integrated into Slingshot focuses on machine learning applied to rendezvous and proximity operations. Within this setup, a camera placed on Slingshot observes a miniature cubesat replica affixed to an expandable panel on the satellite’s exterior. By observing this miniaturized satellite across various lighting conditions, orientations, and backgrounds, valuable training data is gathered for machine learning algorithms.

Firefly Aerospace has recently entered into an agreement with Lockheed Martin to launch a small satellite on Firefly’s Alpha vehicle. The announcement was made on June 29, though no specific timeline for the launch was disclosed at this time.

The purpose of the agreement is to carry out a technology demonstration mission for Lockheed Martin. The aerospace company is actively developing self-funded space experiments aimed at showcasing various technologies for potential government customers.

Lockheed Martin has been exploring different options for launching its payloads, having previously signed a deal with ABL Space in 2021 to launch up to 58 payloads. ABL Space, in which Lockheed Martin has a strategic investment, experienced a launch failure in January, and there is no official update on the company’s next launch attempt.

The collaboration with Firefly Aerospace presents an opportunity for Lockheed Martin to leverage Firefly’s Alpha vehicle to deploy its technology demonstration mission. Firefly is known for its innovative solutions that provide access to space for small payloads, making it an attractive choice for this partnership.

As Lockheed Martin continues to work with ABL Space on their return to flight, the company has signed an agreement with Firefly Aerospace to launch one of their small satellites on Firefly’s Alpha vehicle. This move allows Lockheed Martin to meet its launch requirements for their technology demonstration missions while ABL Space works towards its next flight attempt.

Firefly Aerospace, founded in 2014, has launched its Alpha rocket twice from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. The Alpha launch vehicle is designed to carry payloads of more than 1,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit. The first Alpha launch in September 2021 encountered a failure, while the second launch in October 2022 successfully reached orbit but experienced issues with payload insertion, causing them to reenter Earth’s atmosphere after several days.

By partnering with Firefly for this upcoming launch, Lockheed Martin aims to utilize the innovative capabilities of the Alpha vehicle to deploy its small satellite as part of their technology demonstration mission.

Firefly Aerospace’s launch capabilities have positioned them to provide on-demand launch services for both government and commercial customers. The company has secured contracts for upcoming missions, including the Space Force mission called “Victus Nox” scheduled for launch sometime this summer, and a demonstration mission for NASA under the Venture Class Launch Services contract.

With the necessary infrastructure, technologies, systems, and a dedicated team, Firefly is ready to fulfill the launch needs of various customers, ranging from government agencies to private companies. As they continue to improve their launch vehicle, the Alpha rocket, Firefly aims to expand its portfolio of successful missions, offering reliable and efficient access to space for a wide range of payloads and customers.