WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency wants to buy 10 satellites to support a new on-orbit experimentation effort.

The agency released a draft solicitation June 3 for the National Defense Space Architecture Experimental Testbed, or NExT, seeking a satellite provider to integrate government-provided payloads onto 10 satellites that SDA will use to test new capabilities.

The testbed will support SDA’s vision of creating a constellation of hundreds of satellites operating in low Earth orbit and is on track to launch the first of those systems this fall. While the initial solicitation will be for 10 satellites, an SDA official told C4ISRNET June 14 the agency expects NExT to provide an “enduring” test and experimentation capability. The official spoke on background to freely discuss the program.

“SDA is going to fly these things in this experimental testbed so that if the threat changes or if the warfighter comes to us in two years or four years or sometime in between and says, ‘We need a way to do this,’ we will have already checked out a number of payloads,” the official said.

The testbed will also allow the agency to work ahead, answering key questions about whether it can launch large quantities of the payloads and how they integrate with command-and-control systems on the ground.

“We’ll know a lot more information about these payloads than we would have without this experimentation testbed,” the official said.

SDA will hold an industry day June 22 to brief companies on its plan for NExT and expects to release a formal solicitation in July or August. The official said the agency has identified which government payloads the satellites will carry, but declined to provide details.

Separate from NExT, SDA is also preparing to buy up to 12 satellites that will carry experimentation payloads to inform future capabilities for its transport layer, set to create a mesh network of communication satellites that can transfer information from on-orbit sensors to users on the ground. The 12 satellites will integrate with “tranche 1″ of that transport constellation under an effort called Tranche 1 Demonstration and Experimentation Satellites or T1DES.

SDA will release a formal solicitation for T1DES by mid-July.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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