Rocket Lab Wins SDA Contract For 18 Satellites

10th Jan 2024
Rocket Lab Wins SDA Contract For 18 Satellites

US rocket and in-space technology developers Rocket Lab have won a satellite delivery contract worth $515 million. The agreement, announced on 8th January, will see them build 18 prototype space vehicles for the Space Development Agency (SDA). 

The satellites in question are Tranche 2 Transport Layer (T2TL) “Beta variant prototype space vehicles”, SDA said in a statement. Under the proposal, Rocket Lab’s satellites will be added to SDA’s in the development of the “Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture” satellite constellation. 

SDA’s Director, Derek Tournear, commented: “we welcome Rocket Lab as the newest member of Team SDA and our third performer on the T2TL- Beta program. Their selection as a new prime and bus provider demonstrates SDA’s dedication to our mission, which includes development of a growing, innovative marketplace necessary to sustain SDA’s proliferated architecture on two-year spirals.”  

Rocket Labs Contribution To SDA’s Warfare Architecture

The contract, worth nearly £404.5 million – was awarded on a firm fixed-price, SDA said, and is a “prototype agreement”. Once they are developed, SDA will aim to add the 18 satellites to their already existing 72 ‘Beta space vehicles’.  

According to SBIR, SDA – who fall under the US Department of Defence – are tasked with the development of a ‘Tranche 2 Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture’ constellation. The aforementioned satellites will form “a resilient military sensing and data transport capability”, operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Rocket Lab’s satellites are poised to launch in 2027, with SDA stating they will be segmented between two orbital planes – nine in each. 

SDA’s 90 Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture Satellites

Originally, SDA inked agreements for 72 T2TL satellites worth around $1.5 billion back in August, 2023. The first 72 are expected to launch by September, 2026, but SDA were then given the green light to scale up their constellation. That is when Rocket Lab was brought into the mix. 

Once operational, SDA said: “the constellation will provide global communication access and deliver persistent global encrypted connectivity to support missions like beyond line of sight targeting and missile warning and missile tracking of advance missile threats.” 

The initial 72 satellites will sit in a higher orbit, compared to Rocket Lab’s 18. SDA argued: “this enhances the overall robustness of the capability delivered by the T2TL SVs.” Operationally, the satellites will provide: “low-latency data transport, sensor-to-shooter connectivity, and TACSATCOM direct to platform.”

Other Moving Parts In SDA’s Programme

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are also involved in the ‘Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture’ programme. They both previously won the original contract for the 72 T2TL satellites – split evenly at 36 each. Lockheed Martin are also simultaneously developing satellites for the T1TL constellation, which will be the first to launch, sometime in 2024, closely followed by T2TL approximately two years later. 

While in orbit, SDA said the T2TL satellites will supplement T1TL by offering “advanced tactical data links”. This is in addition to providing the same capabilities as the T1 satellites. Eventually, SDA is aiming to place 270 satellites into their Tranche 2 constellation. As a result, SDA affirmed that the “transport layer” will underpin the US’ “Joint All Domain Command and Control infrastructure”. 

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