L3Harris and Northrop win $1.3 billion in SDA hypersonic missile follow-on contracts

The Space Development Agency’s tracking layer satellites will keep an eye out for ballistic and hypersonic missiles. (Graphic: L3Harris)

WASHINGTON: The Space Development Agency (SDA) today announced L3Harris and Northrop Grumman as the winners of its $1.3 billion competition to develop a new constellation of missile-tracking satellites capable of keep an eye out for Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles.

“Historically, we have not flown satellites designed to track and detect hypersonic maneuver vehicles,” SDA Director Derek Tournear told reporters after the contract was announced. “Our adversaries, so primarily Russia and China, have developed and tested hypersonic glider vehicles, these advanced missiles that are extremely maneuverable, and so these satellites are specifically designed to tackle this version of next-generation threats.”

Tracking Layer satellites, he told reporters today, would be able to track fast hypersonic missiles “throughout flight” and predict their “point of impact” by spotting heat changes during the flight. launch and subsequent maneuvers. (Legacy missile warning systems are able to detect the launch, but not the weaker infrared plumes of maneuvering hypersonic vehicles.)

L3Harris and Northrop Grumman beat out five other contractors for developing the so-called Slice 1 Tracking Layer, to comprise a total of 28 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.

Each contractor will build 14 satellites under an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) contract: the L3 Harris contract potentially worth about $700 million; and Northrop Grumman is potentially worth around $617 million, according to SDA’s press release. SDA plans to start launching the satellites in 2025.

The SDA’s planned constellation, which could eventually include some 200 satellites, is part of the Space Force’s recently approved Resilient Missile Warning and Tracking Architecture, which will also eventually include satellites in medium Earth orbit ( MEO).

The awards are a first step in the Space Force plan, which will move the Department of Defense away from its current reliance on a handful of large, expensive satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and highly elliptical polar orbits, the director said. of the SDA, Derek Tournear.

“Since this is a critical mission with no fails, there will be overlap for some time [with the legacy systems] while we’re building this LEO and MEO constellation, but eventually all LEOs and all MEOs will be able to do missile warning and tracking.

These legacy systems are: the Constellation Space Infrared System (SBIRS), first developed in the 1990s and not expected to be finally completed until August; and its planned replacement, the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared System (Next-Gen OPIR) constellation. The Space Force has budgeted about $14.4 billion through 2025 for the next-generation OPIR, planning to have all five birds in orbit by 2029.

Tournear explained that SDA’s LEO-based missile tracking satellites will be able to transmit “three-dimensional” coordinates on the location of highly maneuverable ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles via its data relay satellite transport layer. US ground and sea-based missile defense systems.

“The transport and tracking layers work in tandem,” he said.

In February, the SDA awarded York Space Systems, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin a total of $1.8 billion for its first set of mission-capable transport-layer satellites.

Dino J. Dotson