The Space Development Agency launched ten satellites into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, on Sunday. The ten are the first of 28 in Tranche 0 of the agency's Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.
In June, the final 18 satellites from Tranche 0, are expected to be launched, and satellites in Tranche 1 are expected to launch in just 18 months. Eventually, the SDA expects to launch hundreds of satellites, delivered in additional tranches every two years, with each tranche providing more capability than the last.
Speaking Monday at Navy League's 2023 Sea Air Space Conference and Exposition in Washington, Derek Tournear, director of the SDA, discussed how his agency maintains resiliency in the space architecture it's now delivering to enable warfighters.
"If you really think about resiliency in space, there's a couple [of] aspects to that," Tournear said. "The primary aspect that we're looking at from SDA's model is we want to make sure that we can provide those ships at sea the connectivity they need."
There are several threats to that concept and SDA has worked out how to thwart them, Tournear said. One threat is that adversaries might simply shoot down SDA's satellites. But SDA's Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture concept undermines that on cost.
"You can shoot down the satellites so they can't talk to the ships," Tournear said. "So now we'll put up hundreds and hundreds of satellites. Now ... our satellites are more affordable than the missiles that you need to shoot them down. So we've kind of taken that off the table. We made it to where ... it's really difficult to shoot those satellites down just by just by virtue of proliferation."
Satellites reside in different parts of space — different orbits at varying heights. The SDA's Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture satellites are being launched into low earth orbit. But Tournear said that's not the only place where American capabilities are located in space.
"The Space Force is moving to this hybrid architecture," he said. "That is, you'll reside in multiple orbits. You get resiliency not only from hundreds and hundreds of satellites, but hundreds of satellites that are working in conjunction with dozens that are in different orbits. So now it's really difficult to actually take out the space layer."
Tournear pointed to cyber and supply chain vulnerabilities as areas where SDA flexes resiliency to protect its investments.
"You've got to make sure you don't have cyber vulnerabilities," Tournear said. "If there's a common mode failure that can take out all your satellites or your ground systems, then you can't proliferate your way out of that. So that's a major concern. We have a lot of protections in place, and that's something that we put a lot of resources on to make sure that we're hardened against cyber threats."
Supply chain threats take two forms he said. The first, he said, are routine supply chain difficulties.
"Working on our programs where we're trying to build a lot of satellites quickly, just to have the robustness in industry to be able to supply those components," he said. "That's kind of a benign supply chain threat."
The other threat in the supply chain, he said, involves adversarial efforts to taint components in a way that could affect the end product.
"That is if there are people that are putting in counterfeit parts or nefarious parts into your supply chain, you need to be able to detect those and protect yourself against those," he said. "We actually look at a lot of different methods of doing non-destructive testing to assure that that doesn't happen."
The radio frequency spectrum — critical to communications between the satellites SDA will put into space and warfighters on the ground — is itself a contested, warfighting domain. It's something Tournear said he's concerned about and where work is being done to ensure continued resiliency in the SDA mission.
"The RF spectrum, you can jam it, you can try to spoof different aspects of it," he said. "It's not a peaceful domain. And RF spectrum combat is something you're going to hear a lot more about ... We're continuing to work with different groups who are pushing the limit on different waveforms to be able to have anti-jam type systems and those kinds of things to be able to fight through those environments."