Northrop Grumman clears key design hurdle for military satellites in record time

By Chris Young,
Published by Interesting Engineering, 19 April 2023

“Our T1TL solution builds on our decades of end-to-end mission expertise.”

Northrop Grumman completed a critical design review of a Space Development Agency (SDA) communications satellite in only 13 months.

As SpaceNews points out, that is a fraction of the time it would typically take traditional space programs to clear that hurdle. The SDA satellite will form part of a 126-satellite constellation that will provide state-of-the-art communication capabilities to the U.S. military.

Northrop Grumman accelerates military satellite development

Northrop Grumman has keenly stressed the fast pace at which it successfully achieved its critical design review.

“It’s paradigm-changing for programs that have this type of capability,” Blake Bullock, vice president for Northrop Grumman’s Communication Systems business unit, told SpaceNews in an interview. 

“For a more standard military communications satellite program, you’re typically looking at multiple years to get to a critical design review,” Bullock continued.

Back in 2022, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and York Space Systems earned SDA contracts to deliver 42 satellites each for the SDA’s Transport Layer Tranche 1, an in-development global communications network in low-Earth orbit for the U.S. Department of Defense.

The entire constellation will cost roughly $1.8 billion, with Northrop having secured $692 million to help develop part of the constellation.

The SDA constellation will serve as an internet-in-space of sorts for the DoD, effectively allowing it to provide connectivity for ground troops anywhere and at any time.

In a press statement, Northrop Grumman explained that the “satellites will provide resilient, low-latency, high-volume data transport supporting U.S. military missions around the world.”

Leveraging “decades of end-to-end mission expertise”

To build such a large number of satellites in the relatively short period of three years, Northrop Grumman has leveraged the knowledge of its partners as well as its own expertise in the sector.

Aside from the 42 communication satellites in the Tranche 1 Transport layer, the defense company has also been tasked with building 14 satellites for the Tranche 1 Tracking layer, which will include an infrared sensor payload.

“We are leveraging our commercial marketplace partnerships to deliver a rapid, affordable, highly effective solution for SDA,” Bullock explained in Northrop Grumman’s press release.

“Our T1TL solution builds on our decades of end-to-end mission expertise. We are uniquely capable of delivering a credible capability to support the warfighter.”

Northrop Grumman also recently announced it was partnering with Tokyo-based IHI Corporation to build small, highly maneuverable satellites for SDA missions. These will be designed to improve security for satellite operators in space.

See: Original Article