Around the beginning of this month, October 2020, SpaceX won a contract worth $149 million. It was not the only winners since L3Harris also won a deal worth $193.5 million. The two agreements were from the Space Development Agency, which is under the Defense Department. The responsibility of SpaceX is to build four satellites. They should be capable of tasks such as detecting and tracking not only ballistic but also hypersonic missiles. Its counterpart, H3Harris, will also create four similar satellites.
The eight satellites were just but the beginning of developing a large constellation comprising of sensor satellites. The Space Development Agency has given it the name Tracking Layer Tranche o. For the first time, the U.S. military will be collaborating with SpaceX to provide satellites. Several years ago, SpaceX opened its factory in Seattle. Its objective was to produce a lot of small satellites that would build the Starlink broadband mega constellation.
What most people were not aware of was the Microsoft involvement. Not until the release of a pre-recorded interview on October 20. It revealed that Microsoft was also a subcontractor and would work together with SpaceX in the SDA program. The speaker was none other than Gwynne Shotwell, who is the serving president of SpaceX and also its chief operating officer.
Another speaker was Microsoft Azure Global’s corporate vice president Tom Keane. The two discussed an agreement that would see SpaceX connect all Azure cloud computing data centers globally using its Starlink satellite broadband.
In addition to the agreement, the two spoke about the SDA program. Shotwell explained its role but other than stating that Microsoft will also be a subcontractor, she said nothing specific about its function.
SpaceX has to deliver the four satellites by September 2022. The qualifiers exhibited not only technical capability but also an excellent turnaround time. Therefore, there are high chances that they will beat the deadline.
The purpose of the satellites is to detect and track missiles from low Earth orbit. To achieve that, the company is settling for an overhead persistent infrared sensor powerful to do so. The field of view will also be wide. After the announcement of the winners of the contract, Tourneur brought a few things to light. As much as SpaceX will build the satellite-based on its Starlink bus, the OPIR sensor will come from a different supplier. He chose not to disclose the payload provider. The spacecraft’s optical crosslinks will do the role of passing data to relay satellites.
SpaceX hardly works with subcontractors, but a source says it considered Microsoft because of its Azure’s orbital emulator. It is capable of visualizing the architecture of a satellite fully. It can also test not only satellite designs but also artificial intelligence algorithms.