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US SDA Seeks Innovation and Partnership

Thousands of Low-Cost Satellites in Prospect

US Space Development Agency (SDA) Director Derek Tournear told attendees at the virtual Small Satellite Symposium on 11 February that the Agency’s raison d’être is to deliver capability to frontline troops, whether it be satellites or other space-based assets, such as missile and hypersonic vehicle tracking sensors. Its responsibility is to unify and integrate DoD’s space development efforts and accelerate fielding of new military space capabilities, in pursuit of which goal it is seeking out small and large innovative technologies that have space-based applications.

The current focus is on producing thousands of low-cost satellites that deliver resilience and capability through a meshed network of interconnected spacecraft providing connectivity directly to existing tactical datalinks, which then talk to weapons systems. Many of those satellites will provide detection, tracking and targeting capability related to advanced missile threats, Tournear stated. Others will provide ISR and space situational awareness, while yet others provide important precision, navigation and timing data. All these satellites are supported by ground support equipment, launch vehicles and mission operations centres.

Some demonstrations will be conducted this year to develop techniques and procedures and prove this networked capability, he added. The first satellite launches will begin in FY 2022 and by the following year there will be 30 different types of satellites. Hundreds of satellites will be launched in the years to follow. Sometime within the next year or two, these satellites will begin providing regional coverage; by the third year, they should be providing global coverage, Tournear noted.

Another focus is on spiral development, he said, referring to refining rapidly-developed prototypes with incremental improvements in such things as algorithms and autonomy. This approach enables new products to be fielded within two years, which is timely compared to traditional acquisition processes. This is a particularly important approach due to the speed with which technology and new threats are emerging.

Tournear emphasized that DOD didn’t create all this innovation. Instead, it relies heavily on commercial innovators, seeking to partner with them. He added he would love to have conversations with industries that are willing to team up with the department in its space-based efforts.

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