New Missile Tracking Satellites Could Be in Orbit by 2025

The Defense Department could have higher-resolution, global missile warning and tracking in place as soon as 2025. 

Congress seeded “Tranche 1” of the Space Development Agency’s Tracking Layer of its planned multi-use satellite constellation in the newly passed fiscal 2022 spending bill. The extra $550 million Congress gave SDA, above what the Pentagon asked for, in fiscal 2022 means the Tracking Layer could go live in early 2025 instead of in 2026. 

SDA awarded contracts to SpaceX and L3Harris Technologies in October 2021 to build the first generation of Tracking Layer satellites, which SDA refers to as “Tranche 0.” In a call with reporters March 15, an official said the $550 million is only the beginning of funding Tranche 1, estimating that the first batch of 28 satellites in Tranche 1 of the Tracking Layer will total $2.5 billion. The remainder would have to come from future budgets.

Similar to SDA’s Transport Layer of satellites for moving data around, batches of new satellites would also refresh the Tracking Layer every two years. Each Tracking Layer satellite should last four or five years.   

Being situated in low Earth orbit will give the Tracking Layer satellites an advantage over DOD’s current infrared satellites orbiting higher up, an official said, in part because of proximity. With more satellites, the constellation will also be more resilient.

The SDA relocates in fiscal 2022 from its place in the DOD’s organizational chart within the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering to become part of the Space Force. It awarded contracts for the 126 satellites that will make up “Tranche 1” of the Transport Layer in February, dividing up the work between Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and York Space Systems.