Since its inception in 2019, the Space Development Agency (SDA) has continually worked to develop and modernize architecture concepts, systems designs, innovative technologies and emerging capabilities to enable leaders across the space domain to leverage next-generation space capabilities that increase warfighters’ lethality, maneuverability and survivability.
During Potomac Officers Club’s 2021 SDA Forum, notable public and private sector leaders will unite to address the latest initiatives, efficiencies and challenges facing the nation, as we compete to maintain space superiority.
Featuring Dr. Derek Tournear, director of SDA and 2021 Wash100 Award recipient, as keynote speaker, the forum will address advancements and challenges within the development and delivery of innovative space solutions, as well as how the industry can support SDA initiatives.
As director of the SDA, within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering (OUSD(R&E)), Tournear works to unify and integrate space capability development and deployment across the department to achieve the DoD space vision while reducing overlap and inefficiency.
He previously served as the assistant director for Space, where he was responsible for developing the research and engineering roadmap to address future gaps in the DoD space architecture.
Tournear recently discussed SDA’s initiative to establish a stable, continuous satellite technology market that would remain ongoing regardless of specific programs. He addressed SDA’s need for industry’s help to establish the National Defense Space Architecture, an architecture of satellites that would collect and transmit targeting and location data for military operations.
Tournear said the government-industry effort may create a new, constant satellite market to achieve this goal. He added that industry would internally develop products in line with a plan to add hundreds of satellites to the architecture every other year.
Earlier this year, Tournear said that SDA will look to begin the process of awarding contracts to procure communications and tracking satellites to form a mesh network in low-Earth orbit. SDA released a draft request for proposals for the development of a space-based “transport layer” comprising 20 satellites that will support a proposed joint command-and-control system.
“We are focused on the warfighter and providing capabilities,” Tournear said. “We want to talk a lot about satellites but, realistically, we’re trying to work backwards and say, ‘what does that warfighter need in space to be able to accomplish the mission?’”
The first satellites that SDA plans to start deploying in 2022 will be a mix of surveillance sensors to help the military find targets on the ground and heat-tracking sensors to locate missiles in flight that might be aimed at U.S. or allied forces.
SDA is trying to attract innovative companies, added Tournear. He said the agency is willing to accept a “higher level of risk” in order to field capabilities more quickly.
Recently, Tournear said the military will need to consider certain technical limits before implementing machine learning (ML) technology across space systems. He discussed space-based ML’s potential to augment the military’s data operations and situational awareness in the future, as well as factors that make the technology difficult to achieve.
ML and artificial intelligence in space would require supercomputers in low Earth orbit to generate the needed amount of computing power. However, the space environment presents a physical limit to how much heat can be produced in orbital systems.
Tournear said to address this issue, he plans to test ground-based target-recognition systems that would then port into a space network. This testing would happen in four years. “It’s really got to be done on the ground first and then ported to space where you’re power- and thermal- constrained,” he stated.
Join Potomac Officers Club’s 2021 SDA Forum to learn how SDA continues to evolve, in addition to how the government and industry work together to deliver the best technologies, so the nation can maintain its advantage in the modern space race.