SDA awards contracts to L3Harris, SpaceX for WFOV tracking satellites

By Courtney Albon / October 5, 2020 at 7:26 PM

The Space Development Agency today announced awards to L3Harris and SpaceX to develop missile tracking and detection satellites for the first tranche of the agency's tracking layer.

L3Harris received a $193 million award and SpaceX's contract -- its first for national security satellite development -- is valued at $149 million. Each company will develop and deliver four satellites. The satellites, part of SDA's "Tranche 0" capability, will have a WFOV payload sensor and an optical crosslink that allows it to relay data to other space vehicles.

SDA's director, Derek Tournear, said in a statement that today's awards represent a "next step" toward fielding the National Defense Space Architecture.

"The SDA Tracking Layer is an integral part of the [Defense] Department's overall overhead persistent infrared strategy to detect, track, and defeat advanced missile threats," Tournear said in a statement. "We are confident these fixed-price awards will help us deliver the initial tranche of the Tracking Layer on schedule."

SDA envisions its tracking layer will be composed of two key capabilities: the WFOV satellites awarded today that provide missile warning and tracking information as well as cueing data for missile defense; and the Missile Defense Agency's Hypersonic Ballistic Missile Tracking Sensor program's medium-field-of-view satellites, which will be designed to receive cues from other systems and provide low-latency tracking data on hypersonic threats.

The constellation will be launched to low-Earth orbit and will connect to another element of SDA's National Defense Space Architecture, the transport layer, through optical intersatellite links. SDA in September awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems to each build 10 satellites for Tranche 0 of the agency’s transport layer.

Up to eight WFOV tracking satellites are slated to launch as part of Tranche 0 -- along with the transport satellites -- and up to two of MDA's MFOV tracking satellites are slated for launch in 2023. An SDA official said in a statement the two agencies' capabilities will be designed to be compatible with one another's integration requirements.

The Pentagon has moved to transfer authority for the space sensor layer effort from MDA to SDA, but lawmakers have pushed back on the proposal. House appropriators said in their mark of fiscal year 2020 defense spending legislation that while they support collaboration between the two agencies, they're worried the Pentagon's plan prioritizes funding for SDA’s work over HBTSS.

Tournear praised the agency's partnership with MDA on the effort.

"We look forward to working collaboratively with industry and our government partners like MDA to deliver a tracking solution that puts critical information in the hands of the joint warfighter at or ahead of the speed of the threat," he said.