L3Harris Technologies, a company that builds satellites for the U.S. government, is currently seeking suppliers that can meet the rigorous technical and schedule demands of national security programs. While defense and intelligence agencies are interested in utilizing commercial space products, they also have unique requirements that present challenges in the supply chain.
L3Harris encountered schedule setbacks due to supplier issues, leading to delays in the delivery of four missile-detection tracking satellites for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency (SDA). These satellites are part of the Transport Layer, a network of sensors in low Earth orbit. Initially projected to launch alongside other SDA Tranche 0 satellites, they will now be launched in October on USSF-124 with two Missile Defense Agency infrared sensor satellites.
Despite the delay, this provides an opportunity for SDA and MDA to test L3Harris’ wide-field-of-view infrared satellites alongside MDA’s medium-field-of-view prototypes. L3Harris plans to pursue additional SDA contracts, including the construction of 14 Tracking Layer Tranche 1 satellites set to launch in 2025, and will compete for a Tracking Layer Tranche 2 contract and a prototype constellation of classified tracking satellites.
To fulfill these contracts, L3Harris is engaging in discussions with satellite bus suppliers to ensure timely delivery and future replenishment. The company is exploring options with Airbus, Ball Aerospace, Terran Orbital, and others, aiming for a common bus strategy to improve efficiency. L3Harris also seeks suppliers that invest in product improvements benefiting SDA’s and other government satellites.
Delivery timelines are crucial, as not having a bus ready when the payload is ready can be costly. L3Harris evaluates bus providers based on their commitment to the government environment and their ability to meet specifications and long-term goals.
Furthermore, L3Harris is exploring collaboration opportunities with Blue Origin, especially utilizing their payload ring adapter for launching small satellites as secondary payloads. The recent acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne has expanded L3Harris’ presence in the space sector. The company intends to leverage Aerojet’s propulsion systems for military satellites and plans to incorporate their guidance, navigation, and control technologies into future missions.
As L3Harris continues absorbing Aerojet Rocketdyne’s operations, there will be further discussions on how to apply their technologies to enhance satellite capabilities, particularly in maneuvering for defensive or offensive missions.