Proposed Space Development Agency funding boost falls short of earlier request

By Courtney Albon,
Published by C4ISRNET, 9 March 2022

An artist’s depiction of L3Harris’ tracking layer satellite, which will be part of a solution designed by the Space Development Agency and the Missile Defense Agency to track and target hypersonic weapons from space. (L3Harris)

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency is poised for a $550 million funding boost in the compromise defense budget bill that would accelerate plans to provide a missile warning and tracking capability for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

However, the increase is $200 million short of previous proposals, and it’s not clear whether that reduction will require a change to the agency’s plan to launch at least 28 wide- and medium-field-of-view satellites as part of its Tranche 1 Tracking Layer (T1TL).

The joint explanatory statement accompanying the bill, which was released Wednesday, doesn’t offer details about the reduction and neither the committee nor SDA immediately responded to questions about how it might impact the agency’s strategy.

Senate appropriators originally proposed a $750 million increase to SDA’s $636 million fiscal 2022 budget request to accelerate development of the T1TL and meet INDOPACOM’s missile tracking needs. SDA Director Derek Tournear told reporters last week the agency is ready to issue a solicitation, but has been waiting for lawmakers to pass an appropriations bill before moving forward.

“If that mark holds and we get the funding, then we will start that Tracking Tranche 1, which means we are essentially holding and ready to release our tracking solicitation as soon as there’s an appropriations act,” Tournear said during a Defense Writers Group event.

SDA issued a draft solicitation for T1TL satellites in December.

Tournear noted that if the additional Tranche 1 tracking funding comes through, the agency will wait to issue a request for proposals for its Tranche 1 Demonstration and Experimentation System — a separate effort aimed at prototyping new capabilities.

“We are very concerned with the bandwidth of our industrial performer base as well as our internal SDA bandwidth, so we’re not going to release both of those solicitations at the same time,” he said. “We would stagger those.”

The satellites will operate from low Earth orbit and carry overhead persistent infrared sensors, providing key space-based missile tracking capabilities. The tracking satellites are part of the Space Development Agency’s broader National Defense Space Architecture, which will consist of hundreds of satellites, primarily operating in LEO.

SDA plans to launch its first batch of satellites, Tranche 0, later this year. Tranche 1 will expand on that capability with technology enhancements and expanded coverage and is intended to represent the NDSA’s initial warfighting capability.

In 2020, SDA awarded contracts to L3Harris and SpaceX to develop the Tranche 0 Tracking Layer satellites. Under those contracts — L3Harris received $193 million and SpaceX $149 million — both companies are developing four wide-field-of-view space vehicles.

At the same time, the Missile Defense Agency is developing medium-field-of-view satellites through its Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor program, which will be part of the tracking layer. The agency awarded contracts early last year to L3Harris and Northrop Grumman to develop prototypes for HBTSS. Northrop received $155 million and L3Harris $122 million.

Elsewhere in the appropriations bill, lawmakers raised concerns with the launch strategy for the Tranche 0 Tracking Layer and HBTSS, which calls for the satellites to be launched on separate rockets — a departure from previous plans to launch the MDA and SDA satellites together.

“The MDA and SDA each launching their own satellites reveals a lack of coordination and cooperation between SDA and MDA, poor oversight on the part of the Department of Defense’s space acquisition enterprise and waste of taxpayer funds,” lawmakers said.

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