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SpaceX and SDA Ready to Fly for Tranche-0B

SDA Tranche 0A and booster 1075 ahead of launch in April, 2023.
Credit: Matt Dahle

SpaceX and the Space Development Agency (SDA) are gearing up to launch their next batch of satellites as part of their Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture program – a LEO network of military communications and tracking satellites with the goal of disrupting the status quo for defense payload acquisition. SpaceX and the SDA are targeting a 7:26 AM Pacific Time liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Saturday, September 2nd.  

The Space Development Agency is a United States Space Force direct-reporting unit tasked with deploying disruptive space technology. The agency was established by Mike Griffin in 2019 with his appointment to Under Secretary of Defense. Griffin had long advocated for low Earth orbit constellations to eliminate U.S. vulnerability to ballistic missiles with his work on space-based interceptors for the Strategic Defense Initiative and Brilliant Pebbles in the 1980s. One of the primary focuses of the agency is space-based missile defense using large global satellite constellations made up of industry-procured low-cost satellites. The SDA has been managed by the United States Space Force since October 2022, and follows operational practices in compliance with National Security Space Launch procedures. The SDA proposed the National Defense Space Architecture, later renamed the Proliferated Warfighting Space Architecture (PWSA). It advances a network of global orbiters composed of layers with different military capabilities such as communications, surveillance, global navigation, battle management, deterrence, and missile defense.

As a disruptive agency, SDA prioritizes both speed and schedule to leverage commercial advances to deliver on a two‐year spiral development timeline. The remarkable speed of the SDA’s development is largely due to the coupling of commercial innovation with Defense juggernauts. SDA uses commercial or commercially‐derived small satellite buses developed in commercial markets and modified only as needed for the PWSA. For Tranche 0 of the PWSA, SDA acquired Transport Layer space vehicles for less than $15 million each by using existing technology – a format for technological readiness which has been observed across the industry. Tranche 0A, the first launch of the program, deployed 10 satellites from York Space Systems and SpaceX as part of their first Layer test program on April 3, 2023.   

Tranche 0B, the second launch overall in the constellation, contains two distinct elements provided by a conglomerate of commercial partners. Transport, which focuses on data linking and relay, uses technologies such as optical relays and low latency connections to help engage with warfighters on the ground. Tracking, the second element of Tranche, aims to augment missile warning, early fire and detection capabilities traditionally found on higher altitude, larger satellites such as SBIRS. These elements use a variety of sensor suites to detect potential missile launches on the ground, and provide over the horizon detection – as well as leveraging new technologies for hypersonic vehicle tracking.

Booster 1063 after launching the hugely successful Double Asteroid Redirection Test for NASA.
Credit: Matt Dahle

For Tranche 0B, 13 satellites will be riding Falcon 9 Booster 1063 into orbit – the same booster which launched the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich mission and NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Of these 13 satellites, 10 are from Lockheed Martin, 2 are from SpaceX, with the final satellite being manufactured by York Space Systems. Launch 3, scheduled for late 2023, aims to fly 4 demonstration satellites from L3Harris. Booster 1063 will lift off from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 7:26 AM Pacific Time, with a 51 minute launch window. The booster will execute a Return to Launch Site landing, touching down at LZ-4 after second stage separation.  

Note: Edited to include updated launch time post scrub.  

Edited by Scarlet Dominik, Beverly Casillas, Matt Dahle.

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