Space Development Agency satellite contractors team up to tackle supply shortages

SDA Director Derek Tournear said industry competitors have agreed to share parts to help the agency meet the schedule.

WASHINGTON — Faced with a tight schedule to launch 28 satellites between September 2022 and March 2023, the Space Development Agency and its contractors have struggled to deal with parts shortages and other supply chain issues that have affected all the space industry.

Some satellite programs have been affected by delays in deliveries of microprocessors and sets of focal planes, but The SDA has mainly had to deal with shortages of low-end items, agency director Derek Tournear said May 17.

“What caught us off guard were some of the lower-level components that I didn’t expect to have a problem with: resistors, wires, connectors, things that you’d expect to always be a little tricky but usually controllable,” Tournear said. at a Potomac Officers Club online event.

Tournear credited SDA’s satellite makers with having “pretty good handling from the start. They knew from day one that the supply chain would be a risk factor for those space-qualified parts.”

Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems are each producing 10 communications satellites for SDA transport layer 0 leg. L3Harris Technologies and SpaceX are each manufacturing four infrared sensor satellites for the 0 leg of the tracking layer.

SDA plans to launch its first 14 satellites in September. “We basically have zero days to go for that launch,” Tournear said.

One item of concern right now is the Ka-band radios needed for satellites, Tournear said. “Our risk elements are our Ka radii. We are having difficulty building and delivering our radios on time. And that’s because of the internal components that go into them.”

Optical cross-link terminals used to pass data from satellite to satellite are also experiencing production delays, he said.

“We had to change providers.” Lockheed Martin and York Space even agreed to share parts, Tournear said. “Our transport layer artists have been extremely helpful in sharing parts with each other.”

“One vendor had radios ahead of schedule that they didn’t need until the second launch. The other vendor did get the optical crosslinks ahead of schedule, but they didn’t need them until the second launch,” he said. “And they were willing to share them with each other so we could get to our launch on time.”

Tournear said that “the kind of competitive camaraderie is a little weird, but they’ve been able to do that. And that helped.”

In addition, SDA has reached out to other government agencies to borrow components, he said. “And that’s how we can continue into this Tranche 0 timeline.”

Looking to the much larger Transport Layer 1 leg, with Lockheed Martin, York Space and Northrop Grumman each under contract to produce 42 satellites, “we foresee the same difficulties,” Tournear said.

On the plus side, “suppliers know what’s coming,” so they are likely to be better prepared, he said. “Now the supply chain is ready and moving forward. So we anticipate that our principals have supply chain plans in place to be able to have the parts on hand and be able to deliver them,” he added. “It’s one of those things where we have to play whack-a-mole while building these satellites.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.