Category Archives: Space

Tranche 2 Transport Layer

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been selected by the Space Development Agency (SDA) to design and build 36 data transport satellites, the first space vehicles in the latest generation of its low-Earth orbit Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA). The team will now update the company’s Tranche 1 design to add new broadcast and tactical communications capabilities to PWSA.

Tranche 2 Transport Layer (T2TL)
Northrop Grumman will supply 36 satellites for SDA’s Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Beta Data Transport Layer (Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The satellites will integrate with, and expand the PWSA mesh network, utilizing high-data-capacity optical crosslinks to deliver accessible, near-real time communications to U.S. warfighters and defensive platforms operating around the globe. The design for this latest iteration, known as Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta (T2TL Beta), builds on the 42 Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) and 14 Tranche 1 Tracking Layer (T1TRK) satellites that SDA previously announced it had awarded Northrop Grumman. The T2TL Beta space vehicles add new broadcast and tactical waveforms improving the capabilities of the overall PWSA.

«Creating a low-Earth orbit communications architecture that meets the needs of the warfighter is complex», said Blake Bullock, vice president, communication systems, Northrop Grumman. «With Northrop Grumman’s extensive military satellite communication experience and deep mission understanding, we are helping SDA make its vision a reality».

Northrop Grumman announced in April it had completed critical design review on its T1TL design in just over a year and in May completed optical interoperability testing. The company is on track to launch its first plane of 21 space vehicles in Q4 2024.

Tranche 1 Transport Layer

Lockheed Martin and the Space Development Agency (SDA) successfully completed the Critical Design Review (CDR) for SDA’s Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) program. The integrated system review validated that Lockheed Martin’s T1TL ground and space designs meet all mission requirements and can proceed to production.

Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL)
Lockheed Martin’s Tranche 0 Transport Layer satellites are seen in one of its processing facilities

The initial warfighting capability of the SDA’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA), T1TL consists of 126 space vehicles divided into six orbital planes. Lockheed Martin is building 42 of those space vehicles for the transport layer constellation, which will provide assured, resilient, low-latency military data and connectivity worldwide to a full range of warfighter platforms using Link-16 waveforms and laser optical intersatellite links.

During the CDR, which took place eight months after a successful preliminary design review, Lockheed Martin and SDA worked closely to thoroughly validate the company’s T1TL satellite and ground designs, to include supplier designs. The CDR included various design validation tests and a successful system optical communications terminal interoperability test, in addition to many other analyses.

«Between SDA’s critical support and engagement and Lockheed Martin’s lessons learned from our work on Transport Layer Tranche 0, we were able to achieve a precise review with successful results», said Chris Winslett, Lockheed Martin’s director for the SDA Transport Layer programs. «The strength of our relationships and thoroughness of the review positions Lockheed Martin to deliver the T1TL satellites on time for SDA’s 2024 launch».

For additional risk mitigation, Lockheed Martin 3D-printed a full-size replica of the Tranche 1 satellite vehicle testbed during the CDR to optimize assembly, integration and testing.

With the completion of CDR, Lockheed Martin now begins the integration and testing phase of the program, which will use the company’s new, 20,000-square-foot/1858-square-meter small satellite processing facility that is designed for high-rate delivery, hosts dedicated test chambers, and can simultaneously accommodate multiple classes of missions. T1TL will be the first program to be hosted by the new facility, which helps transform our business operations to meet our customer’s needs with speed and agility.

SDA also contracted Lockheed Martin to build 10 Tranche 0 Transport Layer (T0TL) satellites, which are ready for launch this summer. SDA’s T0TL constellation serves as the first step toward building an interoperable, connected secure mesh network to support Joint All-Domain Operations.

Lockheed Martin has formed longstanding partnerships with the best minds in the industry, including small businesses, all with a laser focus of delivering high quality products at a highly competitive cost. The company works with a diverse supply base that can build common components without disruptions to cost or schedule, an approach that helps mitigate supply chain challenges and streamline production.


Voyager Space (Voyager), a global leader in space exploration, and Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus), the largest aeronautics and space company in Europe, on August 2, 2023 announced an agreement paving the way for a transatlantic joint venture to develop, build, and operate Starlab, a commercial space station planned to succeed the International Space Station (ISS). The US-led joint venture will bring together world-class leaders in the space domain, while further uniting American and European interests in space exploration.

Voyager Space and Airbus Announce Joint Venture to Build and Operate Starlab

«We are proud to charter the future of space stations with Airbus», says Matthew Kuta, President at Voyager Space. «The International Space Station is widely regarded as the most successful platform for global cooperation in space history, and we are committed to building on this legacy as we move forward with Starlab. We are establishing this joint venture to reliably meet the known demand from global space agencies while opening new opportunities for commercial users».

Voyager was awarded a $160 million Space Act Agreement (SAA) from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in December 2021 via Nanoracks, part of Voyager’s exploration segment. Part of NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program, this SAA sets the foundation to create Starlab, a continuously crewed, free-flying space station to serve NASA and a global customer base of space agencies and researchers.

The program’s mission is to maintain continued human presence and American leadership in Low-Earth orbit (LEO). Today’s announcement builds on an agreement made public in January 2023, where Voyager selected Airbus to provide technical design support and expertise for Starlab.

«With a track record of innovation and technological firsts, Airbus prides itself on partnering with companies that are looking to change history», said Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus. «This transatlantic venture with footprints on both sides of the ocean aligns the interests of both ourselves and Voyager and our respective space agencies. This pioneers continued European and American leadership in space that takes humanity forward. Together our teams are focused on creating an unmatched space destination both technologically and as a business operation».

In addition to the U.S. entity, Starlab will have a European joint venture subsidiary to directly serve the European Space Agency (ESA) and its member state space agencies.

This announcement follows a major design milestone in Starlab’s development, the Systems Requirements Review (SRR), which baselines the major space systems, technical readiness, and ability to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements. The Starlab SRR, was completed in June 2023 in coordination with NASA’s Commercial LEO Development Program team.

«Today marks a major step forward for the future of commercial space destinations», continues Kuta. «We are proud to have NASA’s trust to build the replacement for the ISS, a partnership that expands Starlab’s ecosystem to global space agencies, and a team that is mission driven and dedicated to reimagining the future».

The implementation of the joint venture will be subject to applicable regulatory approvals.

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion

Lockheed Martin has won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and demonstrate a nuclear-powered spacecraft under a project called Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO). The project will represent a rapid advancement in propulsion technology to benefit exploration and national defense.

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP)
DARPA has selected Lockheed Martin to develop a nuclear powered demonstration spacecraft

DARPA partnered with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate on the DRACO project, as both agencies will benefit from this leading edge technology. The in-space flight demonstration of a nuclear thermal rocket engine vehicle will take place no later than 2027.


Faster, Farther, More Agile

Chemical propulsion engines have long been the standard for spaceflight, but for humans to travel to Mars, they will need much more powerful and efficient propulsion. Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) engines offer thrust as high as conventional chemical propulsion with two-to-five times higher efficiency, which means the spacecraft can travel faster and farther and can significantly reduce propellant needs. They also enable abort scenarios on journeys to Mars that are not possible with chemical propulsion systems.

«These more powerful and efficient nuclear thermal propulsion systems can provide faster transit times between destinations. Reducing transit time is vital for human missions to Mars to limit a crew’s exposure to radiation», said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space. «This is a prime technology that can be used to transport humans and materials to the Moon. A safe, reusable nuclear tug spacecraft would revolutionize cislunar operations. With more speed, agility and maneuverability, nuclear thermal propulsion also has many national security applications for cislunar space».


Safe and Efficient Nuclear Tech

An NTP system uses a nuclear reactor to quickly heat hydrogen propellant to very high temperatures and then funnels that gas through the engine nozzle to create powerful thrust. The fission-based reactor will use a special High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium, or HALEU, to convert the cryogenic hydrogen into an extremely hot pressurized gas. The reactor will not be turned on until the spacecraft has reached a nuclear safe orbit, making the NTP system very safe.

Lockheed Martin has partnered with BWX Technologies to develop the nuclear reactor and produce the HALEU fuel.

«In the past several years, BWXT has been maturing its nuclear thermal propulsion fuel and design, and we are excited to further expand into space with our ability to deliver nuclear products and capabilities to the U.S. Government», said Joe Miller, BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC president. «We look forward to building the reactor and manufacturing the fuel at our Lynchburg, Virginia, facilities».

While nuclear systems are an emerging field, Lockheed Martin has a long history and expertise in nuclear controls and has built many of NASA’s radioisotope thermoelectric generators for NASA’s planetary missions. Lockheed Martin has also invested heavily in cryogenic hydrogen storage and transfer. This key technology will be needed in deep space exploration not only for NTP, but for conventional propulsion systems.

Deep-Space Radar

Northrop Grumman Corporation continues to advance the frontiers of sensing technology, successfully completing the Critical Design Review (CDR) and software demonstration for the U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Deep-Space Advanced Radar Capability Program (DARC).

Deep-Space Advanced Radar Capability Program (DARC)
Northrop Grumman Advances the Frontier of Sensing Technology for Space Domain Awareness (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Key milestones completed within 12 months of contract award include:

  • Preliminary Design Review;
  • Critical Design Review;
  • Initial software demonstration.



«DARC will be the first to provide an all-weather, at all times capability in support of the space domain awareness mission that’s critical to national and global security», said Pablo Pezzimenti, vice president, integrated national systems, Northrop Grumman. «The successful critical design review is demonstration of our ability to develop a complex, advanced system with agility and speed».



Following the completion of CDR, the program now turns its focus to the Factory Acceptance Testing of key subsystems starting later this year.

Current ground-based optical systems only operate at night and are impacted by weather conditions. DARC will deliver an all-weather, 24/7 capability to monitor the rapidly evolving geosynchronous orbital environment – providing the nation with enhanced space domain awareness. DARC will augment the military’s space surveillance network as an additional sensor to monitor deep space objects, eventually providing full global coverage.

Human Landing System

Lockheed Martin is on the team that has won a contract from NASA to develop and demonstrate a human landing system for the Artemis program under the agency’s Human Landing System program. The goal of the program is to rapidly develop a sustainable human lunar lander and perform a crewed demonstration flight to the lunar surface for Artemis V.

Human Landing System
NASA’s Sustainable Human Landing System Will Land Crew on the Moon for Artemis V

Led by Blue Origin, the National Team that will develop and build the lander also includes Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic and Honeybee Robotics.

«Congratulations to Blue Origin on this achievement. Lockheed Martin is excited to be part of Blue Origin’s National Team and we are looking forward to building humanity’s first Cislunar Transporter», said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space. «We value Blue Origin’s thoughtful approach to developing human-rated flight systems and are thrilled to be part of a diverse team that combines innovation, deep experience and a strong industrial base».

NASA’s Artemis program is redefining how we explore deep space, and a sustainable human landing system program is key to extending our human presence away from Earth in a long-term way, which will greatly add to our scientific knowledge of the solar system.

As a principal partner on Blue Origin’s National Team, Lockheed Martin brings to the lunar lander effort more than 50 years of experience in space exploration – from developing the Orion spacecraft, to supporting numerous planetary robotic missions, to developing the space shuttle’s external fuel tank. Additionally, Lockheed Martin and National Team partners are drawing on their extensive supplier base, engaging strategic small and mid-sized businesses across the country in the development of the landing system.

42-satellite constellation

Northrop Grumman Corporation recently completed a Critical Design Review (CDR) for its Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL), part of Space Development Agency’s (SDA) low-earth orbit network designed to communicate vital information to wherever it’s needed to support U.S. troops on the ground quickly and securely.

Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL)
The Space Development Agency has formerly announced that Northrop Grumman is under contract to develop and build 42 Tranche 1 Transport Layer satellites and 14 Tranche 1 Tracking Layer satellites as part of its Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) communication satellites will provide resilient, low-latency, high-volume data transport supporting U.S. military missions around the world. Designed to connect elements of an integrated sensing architecture, the network will deliver persistent, secure connectivity, and serve as a critical element for advancing the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) vision for Joint All Domain Command and Control.

«We are leveraging our commercial marketplace partnerships to deliver a rapid, affordable, highly effective solution for SDA», said Blake Bullock, vice president, communication systems, strategic space systems, Northrop Grumman. «Our T1TL solution builds on our decades of end-to-end mission expertise. We are uniquely capable of delivering a credible capability to support the warfighter».

SDA formerly announced that Northrop Grumman is under contract to provide the agency with 56 satellites, including the 42 communication satellites in the Tranche 1 Transport layer and 14 for the Tranche 1 Tracking layer, which includes an infrared sensor payload. The Tracking layer program recently completed its preliminary design review. Northrop Grumman is also providing the ground system for both its Transport and Tracking constellations.

ViaSat-3 Americas

Boeing delivered the most powerful satellite platform the company has built to date, the 702MP+, a custom-designed spacecraft for network provider Viasat.

ViaSat-3 F1
ViaSat-3 Americas, one of the most powerful satellite platforms Boeing has ever built, in the Boeing El Segundo, California satellite factory (Boeing photo)

«Working with Boeing, we’re very excited to complete the ViaSat-3 Americas and bring us one step closer to providing higher speeds, more bandwidth, and greater value to our customers on a global scale whether they be on land, on the sea, or in the air», said Dave Ryan, president Space & Commercial Networks, Viasat. «The innovation of this satellite allows us new levels of flexibility to dynamically allocate capacity to the most attractive and engaged geographic markets».

Upon embarking from the Boeing factory in California, ViaSat-3 Americas was flown to the Florida Space Coast where Boeing and Viasat teams will support launch and mission operations as the spacecraft prepares to travel to geostationary orbit, approximately 22,000 miles/35,406 km from Earth. Once in orbit, ViaSat-3 Americas will be the first of three 702MP+ satellites to make up the ultra-high-capacity ViaSat-3 satellite constellation, designed to provide high-quality, affordable global connectivity and coverage.

«We designed, built and delivered the most powerful satellite platform we have ever provided to a customer. The result really is an engineering marvel», said Michelle Parker, vice president of Space Mission Systems at Boeing Defense, Space & Security. «We expanded the boundaries of our design and the platform components to exceed Viasat’s demanding mission requirements, while ensuring alignment with Boeing’s proven qualification and reliability standards».

Based on the flight-proven 702 vehicle design hosting the U.S. Department of Defense’s Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) constellation, and more than 40 other high-performing satellites, including ViaSat-2, Boeing’s 702MP+ features all-electric propulsion for the first time aboard a 702MP, providing more sustained thrust and efficiency.

Boeing improved the platform’s structure to support Viasat’s large payload. The platform also accommodates the largest commercial satellite solar arrays Boeing-subsidiary Spectrolab has ever produced, along with batteries and supporting electronics, which generate well over 30 kW of solar power.

The satellite has some of the largest reflectors ever sent to space and will be significantly larger than most geostationary satellites, requiring highly-refined, highly reliable hardware and software to maintain optimal satellite control. In addition to designing and manufacturing the platform, Boeing worked with Viasat to integrate the payload.

Next-Gen OPIR

Northrop Grumman Corporation has refined the design of Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Polar (NGP) satellites by leveraging digital technology called Highly Immersive Virtual Environment (HIVE). The satellites are being built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC).

Northrop Grumman Enhances Design of Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar Satellites

Northrop Grumman’s HIVE technology allows engineers to design, build, maintain and service satellites in virtual reality before any hardware is manufactured or procured. Real-time modeling, simulation, visualization and human interaction reduce technical costs and risks early in the development phases.

«With digital engineering, we can move through the design, testing and manufacturing phases quickly and with agility, saving money and significantly reducing development timelines for large systems», said Carol Erikson, vice president, systems engineering and digital transformation, Northrop Grumman.

As part of the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared System (Next-Gen OPIR), two NGP satellites will provide precise, timely sensor coverage over the northern hemisphere to help deter and defend against ballistic and hypersonic missiles. NGP combines Northrop Grumman’s proven experience in missile warning and defense with a commitment to delivering NGP at an accelerated pace.

During a recent HIVE demonstration, conducted at the company’s facility in Redondo Beach, California, Northrop Grumman engineers donned virtual-reality goggles and motion-capture suits to simulate the integration and assembly of the satellites’ key components. Engineers validated the NGP design and will continue to use digital technology in the next stages of the satellites’ development.

In March 2022, Northrop Grumman announced its partnership with Ball Aerospace to design and develop the two NGP satellite infrared payloads in the first phase of a $1.89 billion SSC contract.

Missile warning and tracking

Raytheon Technologies received an award valued at more than $250 million to design, develop and deliver a seven-vehicle missile tracking satellite constellation, as well as support launch and ground operations by the Space Development Agency.

Seven-vehicle satellite
Space Development Agency’s satellite constellations will provide warning, tracking, and targeting of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems

Once deployed, the low-Earth orbit constellation of networked satellites will become the fifth plane of satellites providing missile warning and tracking for the Department of Defense. The program is a key element of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.

«Developing a resilient and affordable proliferated satellite constellation in low-Earth orbit will improve our ability to track emerging threats like hypersonic missiles», said Dave Broadbent, president of Space & C2 at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. «Continuing to develop this architecture with SDA and our industry partners will be a high priority for us in the coming months».

Raytheon Technologies has been developing missile warning systems for decades. Since acquiring Blue Canyon Technologies and SEAKR Engineering, Raytheon Technologies has expanded its space payload and satellite bus capabilities and expertise, becoming a leading provider of space systems to a growing number of programs.

Raytheon will leverage existing designs, available commercial products and common components to reduce technical risk and speed delivery. The seven-vehicle satellite constellation will feature Raytheon’s Wide Field of View overhead persistent infrared sensor, Blue Canyon Technologies’ Saturn-class microsatellite bus, and SEAKR Engineering’s electronics payload.