The U.S. military’s Space Development Agency hit a major milestone today, conducting its first launch to space. The mission sent 10 new communications and missile tracking satellites into low-Earth orbit in a test of the agency’s mission to quickly create a new orbital network of satellites.

The satellites, carried aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The successful launch comes two and a half years since the Space Development Agency, a part of Space Force, was first awarded the contract.

The 10 satellites are part of the agency’s initial program, called Tranche 0. Eight of them, built by York Space Systems, are meant to send visual data from space down to sensors on Earth. The other two, developed by SpaceX, use infrared sensors to track hypersonic missiles in flight. They were put into low-Earth orbit roughly 1,000 kilometers above the planet. Now in space, the 10 satellites are set to go through a period of testing before being put to use in exercises later this year. 

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The Space Development Agency plans on sending 28 total satellites as part of Tranche 0. The agency, created to develop new defense systems for space, with a focus on tracking hypersonic weapons, calls the planned satellite constellations its “Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.” Alongside the goal of building and launching these new satellites quickly, the goal is to have the array complement military spacecraft and other equipment. 

“This is a major accomplishment for SDA and for the whole Department of Defense. It shows that our key pillars, proliferation and spiral development, can deliver for national security space,” Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear said in a statement after the launch. “Through this launch, we’ve demonstrated that SDA can keep a schedule to deliver enhanced capabilities every two years. This revolutionary approach is enabled by growth in the commercial marketplace, allowing the PWSA to move forward to deliver warfighting capabilities in each future tranche.”

The mission launch was originally set for Thursday, March 30, but was aborted just seconds before liftoff. It was pushed back to Friday and then again to Sunday. 

Per the agency, these satellites will be used to track missile tests and participate in military exercises set for this summer. The remaining 18 satellites of the Tranche 0 group are expected to be sent into space in June, again using SpaceX rockets. It’s part of a $150 million deal announced in 2020. 

Like Space Force, the Space Development Agency was created in 2019. However it only fell under the service branch’s umbrella in October 2022. 

A follow-up, dubbed Tranche 1, will comprise 173 satellites and is currently scheduled to launch in 2024. 

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