Optical links will connect SDA's Transport Layer to weapons platforms

Optical links will connect SDA’s Transport Layer to weapons platforms. SDA image

WASHINGTON: The Space Development Agency is rescinding its initial call to industry for bids to develop and build the first mission-capable set of 144 satellites designed to relay data to each other and users on the ground — and relaunching the competition using a different contracting vehicle, agency director Derek Tournear said today.

“The Tranche 1 Transport Layer, T1TL, that’s the one that was in source selection, actually, we’re going to rescind that solicitation and issue a new one today,” he told the America’s Future Series Space Innovation Summit this afternoon.

“The Space Development Agency will rescind the Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) Request for Proposal, issued on Sept. 30, and reissue the solicitation under Other Transaction Authorities (OTA),” explained SDA spokesperson Jennifer Elzea in an email to Breaking Defense. OTAs represent a more open-ended contracting process, and have gained popularity at the Pentagon in recent years.

The move comes in the wake of an Oct. 8 protest by Maxar about the original Aug. 30 request for proposals (RFP), which an agency official told Breaking Defense has now been dismissed by the Government Accountability Office.

The original solicitation covered delivery of 126 “baseline” satellites carrying a Ka-band space-to-ground communications link, four optical communications terminals, a Link 16 payload (which is the current standard for machine-to-machine communications link among US and allied weapon systems), and a battle management, command, control and communications (BMC3) compute and storage module.

“On Oct. 8, SDA heard from industry through a protest that pointed out the solicitation may have inadvertently limited competition. SDA is committed to full and open competition and the agency understands protests are a potential and not uncommon part of the process, but SDA would like to avoid even the perception that competition was limited in some way. SDA has always had the authorities to use different contracting mechanisms; therefore, SDA will cancel the initial request for proposal submitted using traditional contracting mechanisms under the Federal Acquisition Regulation and will reissue the solicitation under OTA,” Elzea said.

The new request for proposals is expected to appear on the Sam.gov website and SDA’s own website by the end of the day, the agency official elaborated.

Tournear told the summit that proposals under the new OTA would be due from interested industry the day before Thanksgiving. “You’re welcome,” he joked.

The original RFP was expected to award funds to three contractors. While she did not directly address the question of the number of awards, Elzea stressed that the new solicitation will not “substantially impact the delivery timeline, cost, or technical requirements,” and “more importantly” the new strategy will not impact the program’s pace. She noted that OTAs in general “allow for a more streamlined solicitation, evaluation, and contract award processes.”

Tournear explained in his summit remarks that the T1TL contract is only one of the solicitations underway at SDA for development of its seven-layered National Defense Space Architecture of multiple small satellites in Low Earth Orbit.

A draft RFP for “OSI, or Operations and Integration” providers — for “the ground and overall integration” work — will be coming out “sometime next week,” he said. “And our intention is to actually get that final one out as soon as we make the awards on the T1TL,” sometime in “January or February,” he added.

The agency has been busy this month. On Oct. 8, SDA issued a draft RFP for 18 satellites, called Tranche 1 Demonstration and Experimentation System (T1DES), designed to carry experimental payloads developed by mission partners from industry and other government agencies. The RFP was updated on Oct. 12. Interested vendors have until Nov. 8 to respond to the draft with questions and comments.

Of those 18 sats, Tournear said 12 “will have UHF- and S-band payloads, and then six of which will have have have our partner payload missions.” SDA anticipates the final solicitation “to go out about the same time as the OSI solicitation, and to make that final in that January, February timeframe,” he added.


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