Space Development Agency Director Outlines Plan to Join Space Force

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AEHF-5 communications satellite onto a C-5M Super Galaxy
U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center personnel and civilian ground crews load the fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-5) communications satellite onto a C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft, at Sunnyvale, Calif., April 22, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jonathan Carnell)

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is on track to become part of the U.S. Space Force the same year it plans to launch a series of tracking and targeting satellites known as "Tranche 0" into orbit, according to its director.

"October [2022] was the date that was put forward for when the SDA would transition into the Space Force, and that is still the timeline we are working under," Dr. Derek Tournear

told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday. "Primarily, that will allow us to have 'Tranche 0' operational and to be able to demonstrate the capabilities of proliferated system and how that fits in."

The satellites will be able to detect targets and give service members on the ground "beyond line-of-sight targeting" information, Tournear said.

Related: Space Force Has Its First Launch: An Official Website

The satellite network will grow every two years following "Tranche 0," as more satellites with different upgrades are put into orbit. For example, some will be able to detect and track adversarial missile launches -- eventually even hypersonic missiles.

"'Tranche 0' is several dozen [satellites]," Tournear said. "The plan from that point on is to [add] on the order of one satellite a week to the current layer, so 'Tranche 1' would have several hundred satellites ... and you'll add new capabilities."

The life expectancy for the satellites, which cost roughly $10 million each, is about five years, he added.

When the Space Development Agency stood up in March 2019, it was tasked with overseeing procurement of new satellites for the Defense Department, among other capabilities.

Tournear said the agency has set an ambitious goal to move quickly beyond standard acquisition practices to create a robust satellite presence. By 2026, the satellites will provide "full global coverage" for battle management and navigation -- among other key capabilities -- for warfighters on the ground, he said.

"We're taking technology that is available to fly within 18 to 24 months," he explained.

The SDA is working with other agencies, such as the Missile Defense Agency and the Army, which are already developing similar sensing, tracking and tactical communication equipment.

"The SDA transport layer is going to be the mesh network that is kind of the backbone that all of these entities can use to get data on and off for targeting solutions," Tournear said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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