The launch of the Space Development Agency’s first batch of satellites has been pushed back to March 2023, but the government says the delay will not impact the planned use of those satellites during U.S. military exercises this summer.
The planned December launch aboard a SpaceX rocket had already been pushed back from September due to supply chain issues, but anomalies with satellites provided by manufacturer York Space Systems have pushed back the launch again, as first reported by Space News.
“As the performers identified and began to mitigate challenges to the aggressive delivery schedule, we adjusted our initial launch to December,” an SDA spokesperson told Connectivity Business News, noting that September had been the earliest possible launch date. “More recently, after careful analysis and with input from our performers, we’ve set the initial Tranche 0 launch for March 2023; the second Tranche 0 launch is planned for June 2023.”
The SDA, established in 2019, is building the U.S. military’s first proliferated low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation. The full constellation will form a mesh network made up of hundreds of satellites connected by optical intersatellite links that will provide services for the U.S. Department of Defense including missile warning, data transport and targeting threats on the ground. The agency is using a spiral development approach to build out the constellation, launching new tranches of satellites every two years.
The Tranche 0 awards were issued in August 2020, with Denver-based York Space Systems receiving a $94 million contract to build 10 LEO satellites and military contractor Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) receiving $188 million to build another 10 satellites. The new schedule will still have the first launch taking place within 30 months of those contract awards, far faster than traditional U.S. military satellite acquisitions, which can take 5-10 years to develop.
The SDA spokesperson said the agency had built flexibility into its schedule, and the new delay will not impact the military’s plans for this summer or the delivery of future tranches.
“We anticipate all Tranche 0 satellites will be flying in time to participate in critical capability demonstrations including military exercises in summer 2023 and missile targeting demonstrations in 2024,” the spokesperson said.
Moreover, the agency will not be adjusting its aggressive plans to deliver new tranches every two years.
“SDA is not backing off on speed, as we still believe schedule is king. SDA will continue to push forward and accelerate delivery to field the proliferated low Earth orbit architecture,” the spokesperson said.