WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency’s first major satellite launch, planned for this month after being rescheduled from October, has been delayed again after technical issues arose during testing.
An SDA spokesman told C4ISRNET on Dec. 10 that “after careful analysis and input from our performers,” the agency chose to further delay the launch until March.
Space News first reported the schedule change, citing a technical issue that arose during testing. York Space Systems, one of the companies building data relay satellites for SDA, discovered a power supply problem that will require a hardware change and additional testing.
The mission was initially expected to launch in early October and would have included a mix of missile tracking and data relay satellites, which are part of the first batch of SDA capability, dubbed “Tranche 0.” Supply chain concerns and residual delays from an early contract protest pushed the expected launch date to December.
The delay to the inaugural mission will also impact the schedule for SDA’s second Tranche 0 launch, which had been slated for March but will now fly in June. The agency doesn’t expect the setback to affect plans to incorporate SDA satellites into military exercises next summer, including U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s joint readiness event called Northern Edge, the spokesman said.
SDA was created in 2019 to help the U.S. Department of Defense craft a more resilient space architecture by augmenting its traditional constellations of large, expensive satellites with hundreds of more affordable vehicles operating in low Earth orbit, within 1,000 miles of the planet’s surface. The agency has launched a few demonstration vehicles, but the Tranche 0 mission will carry the first satellites that will constitute its proliferated constellation, which it calls the National Defense Space Architecture.
SDA awarded the Tranche 0 contracts in 2020, choosing Lockheed Martin and York to build the data relay, or transport, satellites and L3 Harris and SpaceX to develop the missile tracking space vehicles.
A key tenet of SDA’s acquisition approach is spiral development, a process that emphasizes rapid capability deliver and regular technology upgrades. The spokesman said that despite early schedule setbacks, the agency is “confident our spiral development model works.”
“SDA is not backing off on speed, as we still believe schedule is king,” they said. “SDA will continue to push forward and accelerate delivery to field the proliferated low Earth orbit architecture.”
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.