The Space Development Agency updated a request for the proposal for the 144 satellites which previously had been issued. It is now seeking bids for 126 satellites, with the remaining 18 to be procured at a later date. The adjustment was arrived at after it was apparent that the previous plan to deploy 6 stacks of 24 satellites was not going to work owing to launch vehicle limits, said Derek Tournear, SDA Director on a DefenseOne online event in September 27. The number of satellites in every stack had to be lowered to 21.
The deadline for bids for Transport Layer Tranche 1 has been extended to October 8. A mesh network will connect 126 data-relay communications satellites. SDA had requested 126 “baseline” communications satellites that are to be deployed in 2024, as well as 18 “partner payload program” satellites (referred as P3) that was going to carry the hosted payloads, in the original RFP dated Aug. 30. The updated RFP was released on 14th September.
The P3 satellites will consist of a combination of the 12 UHF (ultra-high frequency) as well as S-band satellites, as well as six payloads from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Air Force Research Laboratory, or US Army that have yet to be identified. SDA had intended to launch six flights of 24 satellites — 21 baselines as well as three P3 — according to Tournear. “However, as we began to work via the national defense space launch Phase 2 criteria, that posed some challenges,” he explained. “For the P3 satellites, we required a seventh launch,” he explained.
SDA will still acquire the 18 P3 satellites, however in a different request, according to Tournear. “It seemed sensible to undertake a fresh solicitation” once it was decided that they were going to need another launch.
Tournear didn’t go into detail about the launch vehicle’s limitations. As per the industry sources, the SDA was forced to lower the stack to 21 satellites since SpaceX’s Falcon 9 couldn’t launch 24 satellites in one go with its recoverable booster configuration. Under national security space launch Phase 2 deal, SpaceX as well as United Launch Alliance are going to be the launch service suppliers. According to these sources, the Space Force demanded that the SDA construct its payloads so that either provider could deploy them. “These will all be demonstration concepts, not operational satellites,” Tournear said, adding that SDA will secure a commercial release for the P3 satellites.
The Space Development Agency is a division of the US Defense Department, Office of Under Secretary in charge of the Defense for Research and Engineering that promotes space development in national security interest.