WASHINGTON — L3Harris Technologies and Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems won a U.S. Department of Defense contract to furnish multimillion-dollar satellites that help detect, identify and target missiles and other cutting-edge threats, including hypersonics.

The Space Development Agency on July 18 said the companies will each produce 14 prototype satellites for the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer, a key component of the National Defense Space Architecture, which will consist of hundreds of satellites operating primarily in low-Earth orbit.

Together, the agreements are valued at more than $1.3 billion. The L3Harris deal came in at $700 million, making each satellite and related service package worth roughly $50 million. The Northrop Grumman deal came in at $617 million.

Seven proposals were received. SDA Director Derek Tournear on Monday declined to say who else was interested in furnishing the systems, but did say the competition was healthy and heating up.

The SDA published the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer solicitation in March.

“The primary purpose of this contract is so that we can provide, for the department and for the nation, missile warning and missile tracking capability for the advanced missile threats and to deliver that as rapidly as possible,” Tournear told reporters.

The first launch is expected in April 2025. Three more are expected to follow.

The satellites will be installed in different locations, traveling north to south on polar orbits, and will carry overhead persistent infrared sensors. They will be constructed with the contemporary space environment in mind, according to Tournear, who emphasized the threat of attrition and the real-world value of strength in numbers.

“Historically, our architecture was designed in an environment that was very benign. In other words, an environment that was not threatened at all,” he said. “Now, we’re in an environment where space is challenged, people talk about space as a warfighting domain. Because of that, we’ve had to completely change the way that we do our space architecture. The space architecture now is designed to be more resilient, based on proliferation.”

Congress in fiscal 2022 gave the SDA an extra $550 million, accelerating the agency’s schedules and helping almost double total development and prototyping funds to $1.2 billion from $636 million, C4ISRNET reported.

The Pentagon reiterated the point Monday, adding that specific attention was to be paid to the Indo-Pacific, where the U.S. is investing much time and money to counter China.

“As you as you see in the news, our adversaries, primarily Russia and China, have been developing and testing hypersonic glide vehicles, these advanced missiles that are extremely maneuverable,” Tournear said. “These satellites are specifically designed to go after that next-generation version of threats out there.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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