JUST IN: Much Anticipated Missile Warning Satellite Program Moves Forward

By Mikayla Easley

Northrop Grumman illustration

The Space Development Agency plans to “imminently” release a solicitation for a new constellation of advanced missile tracking satellites to industry, a senior defense official said March 15.

After receiving $550 million from the 2022 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week, the agency is now able to continue development of its “Tranche 1” Tracking Layer, according to a senior defense official. The constellation would expand missile tracking worldwide and give the Pentagon the ability to detect next-generation weapons such as hypersonic missiles.

“Right now, the department has satellites that provide global missile warning capability to essentially detect launches of missiles, but nothing that can actually detect the new advanced missiles,” the official — who spoke on the condition that he not be named — told reporters in a briefing. “This would be the first to be able to provide that over the globe.”

In total, the Space Development Agency will receive $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2022 for development and prototyping funding.

The upcoming solicitation — planned to be released “in the next one or two weeks” — will request up to 28 satellites that can provide missile-warning capabilities from a low-Earth orbit. The first launch is scheduled for 2025, the official said. The agency plans to award contracts for two orbital planes to two separate vendors. Each orbital plane will be made of seven satellites, the official explained.

Even with the funding, however, fiscal year 2022 appropriations won’t be able to cover the bill for all 28 Tranche 1 spacecraft, the official said. The entire constellation of tracking satellites is estimated to cost $2.5 billion, the official noted.

While the new funding gives the Space Development Agency an earlier launch date, the appropriation is $200 million less than the $750 million appropriated by Congress.

The official said the decrease in funding won’t cause a reduction in the coverage area of Tranche 1, but will force the Space Development Agency to push back its launches and spread them out across two fiscal years. The initial $750 million would have allowed agency to pay for all four launches in 2024, the defense official noted.

To get missile-tracking coverage in crucial areas such as the Indo-Pacific, however, the agency will still require funding in the coming fiscal years to complete the constellation of 28 satellites, the official said.

The new constellation will be part of the agency’s “National Defense Space Architecture” that will comprise satellites for tracking, positioning, navigation and timing and warfighter communications, according to the Defense Department.

Tranche 1 Tracking Layer will expand the coverage of its antecedent — “Tranche 0.” The first-generation tracking layer will be made of eight missile-warning satellites built by L3Harris and SpaceX. They are scheduled to launch in 2023.

The new tracking satellites will send its data to a separate constellation of communication satellites called the Tranche 1 Transport Layer. Once in orbit, the transport layer will securely move massive amounts of data faster and farther. The Space Development Agency announced in February it would award contracts worth a combined $1.8 billion to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and York Space Systems for the Tranche 1 Transport Layer.

“We’re really excited to push forward and make sure that we get all of our Tranche 0 and Tranche 1 constellations delivered on time and on budget,” the official said.


Topics: Space

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