“The Pentagon will solicit its first mesh network in space May 1” – TTG


The Space Development Agency plans to award contracts for a mesh network in space this August, with the expectation that an initial batch of 20 satellites will be placed on orbit during summer 2022. The agency expects to release a request for proposals for the contracts May 1. The announcement came during an industry day the agency hosted over the phone April 2. The industry day was originally slated to take place during the 36th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs April 2, however, after that event was cancelled due to the circumstances with COVID-19 the agency opted to hold a virtual industry day instead. According to SDA Director Derek Tournear, 580 people called in for the event.

That first batch will include 20 satellites and will comprise what Pentagon leaders are calling Tranche 0 of the SDA’s Transport Layer, a mesh network of satellites operating primarily in low earth orbit and will be able to connect space-based sensors to the war fighter.

According to Tournear, the agency has six goals for its Trache 0 Transport Layer:

  1. Demonstrate low latency data transport to the war fighter over the optical crosslink mesh network.
  2. Demonstrate the ability to deliver data from a space sensor to the war fighter via the Transport Layer.
  3. Demonstrate a limited battle management C2 functionality.
  4. Transfer Integrated Broadcast System data across the mesh network to the war fighter
  5. Store, relay and transmit Link-16 data over the network in near real time.
  6. Operate a timing signature independent of GPS references to the US Naval Observatory.

Following Tranche 0, the SDA plans to continuously upgrade and add to its on orbit constellation in two year cycles, with Tranche 1 coming online in FY2024, Tranche 2 supplementing the system in FY2026. The SDA will procure two types of satellites for Tranche 0, with one main difference being that one set of satellites will have enough optical inter-satellite links to communicate with other satellites operating in LEO and satellites in medium earth orbit or geosynchronous orbit, while the other will only have enough to communicate with other satellites in LEO.   (C4ISRNET)


The SDA is a DoD office established in March 2019 and scheduled to become part of US Space Force in October 2022. This mesh network sounds remarkably similar to Elon Musk’s Starlink in structure. I would be very surprised if young Elon does not get the lion’s share of the government contracts to establish this tranche 0 transport layer.


I’m intrigued by the SDA’s terminology for this mesh network. The transport layer is a term used in the open system interconnection (OSI) responsible for end-to-end communication over a data network. It’s an internet term. Is the SDA’s effort to establish its mesh network an effort to extend the internet into space? Once this mesh network is in place, I’m curious to see how CYBERCOM fits into this. If the internet extends into LEO and beyond, will CYBERCOM see that this DoD mesh net as part of its domain? I sense a coming turf war between CYBERCOM and SPACECOM.



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18 Responses to “The Pentagon will solicit its first mesh network in space May 1” – TTG

  1. Chris says:

    I’m curious what anyone thinks of this article regarding all these satellites. Thanks

  2. Chris,
    Something about the url in your comment caused it and my comments including that url to mask the entire comments. Strange stuff. I always figured this IT stuff is equal parts science, engineering and dark magic.
    If anyone wants to see the original page, use google. the site was sciencealert.com. The tittle was “astonomers have serious concerns about satellite constellations like starlink”
    Musk’s answer that all these satellites won’t affect Earth-based astronomy is the height of arrogance. Of course all these satellites will eventually affect astronomy, especially amateur astronomy. Expanding urbanization certainly degrades astronomy, but urbanization is not going to stop. I see the proliferation of satellites to be just as inevitable. Space-based telescopes and telescopes on the far side of the Moon are an answer for the wealthy, but that doesn’t help the amateur astronomer with his backyard telescope. It will be interesting to see if miniature, relatively cheap satellite telescopes are developed by universities or maybe groups like The Planetary Society.

  3. Adrestia says:

    The “low latency” may indicate low orbit satellites. Personally not that fond of satellites. Even with LEO the distance generates enough latency related issues that will affect realtime applications.
    When used for voice or up/download of data it shouldn’t matter though.
    It should be able to supplement BACN services.
    But I’m doubtful it will survive very long in a conflict with Russia/China with ASAT/EW.

  4. turcopolier says:

    I would think that in this case Cybercommand would be a customer for Space Force.

  5. JohninMK says:

    Back in the 1970s I was a data communications specialist designing networks. NPL here in the UK were one of our customers so we worked closely with them on what turned out to be the OSI 7 layer model. The Transport Layer was one of the layers of that model. However, typical of many standards that originate in committees it had too many options to work as a multi manufacturer standard. Hence over the following years along came TCP/IP using roughly the inner 5 layers (TCP is equivalent to Layer 4)of the OSI 7 layer model designed specifically to overcome that issue, hence to ubiquitous of the Internet.
    As you say Colonel, interesting that they refer back to an old term. It may be it is a new multilayer network or just that they wanted to avoid the minefield of describing it as TCP when the answer to your question would be obvious. Or maybe they want to just make the point that Layer 3 and below functions are handled elsewhere in the network. Or just they want to keep it out of others hands with an incompatible protocol. Life is sometimes intentionally complex for stupid reasons.

  6. JamesT says:

    Since you are an “OSI stack geek” I will argue that SPACECOM will own layers 1&2 while CYBERCOM will own all of the layers above.

  7. pl,
    Do you mean there will be Space Force personnel in the CYBERCOM staff along with Army, Navy and Air Force personnel? I can see that. I’m sure Space Force units will be responsible for launching, controlling and replacing the physical satellites as well. IMO that will be the central mission of Space Force for the foreseeable future. I remember talk about creating a Cyber Force as a separate service years ago. I always thought a large part of such a force would be hackers and hacker teams issued letters of marque by the USG.

  8. Jose says:

    Lots of ducks to shot down..lol
    Does anybody know if the 1st Space Brigade is going to the Space Force or staying with the Army?

  9. English Outsider says:

    A bit fragile, TTG? Presumably as soon as hostilities were in prospect all these satellites would just be swept out of the sky. Or blanked off. The internet itself doesn’t seem that robust.
    Perhaps suggest to the Pentagon that they back up with semaphore stations. You know where you are with those.

  10. turcopolier says:

    I mean that Space Force will be the supporting command and Cybercom the supported. As you know I do not share your view of Space Force’s limited future.

  11. scott s. says:

    I suppose the Space Force would provide a component commander under CyberCom, but I guess the question is who operates and defends the mesh network? This seems like something DISA would do, if DISA still exists?

  12. Paul Merrell says:

    Mesh networks are devices connected wirelessly over peer-to-peer connections as opposed to server-driven. Each connected device is a point, and points can be added or drop out without harm. If there is one other device on the network within range, then your device can connect to all devices in the network.
    The weak point for the Space Force (or whichever agency gets the technology) will probably be connecting with Earth. Do all points connect independently or are those communications directed through one or more points connected to Earth. Those devices connected to Earth are the enemy’s targets. Wipe them out and the mesh network is isolated from Earth command.

  13. English Outsider,
    Extremely fragile. That’s why I see Space Force and SPACECOM fully occupied with keeping all those satellites in orbit, replacing them as they go down and trying to thwart enemy ASAT capabilities for the foreseeable future. Maybe they’ll develop active defense systems for satellites similar to the Russian Afganit or Israeli Trophy systems. Maybe they’ll develop dedicated killer satellites to protect communication and surveillance satellites from attacks. If it ever comes to a shooting war in orbit, it’s going to be a mess up there.

  14. Jose,
    The 1st Space Brigade is slated to remain an Army unit under Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC), but will fall under SPACECOM rather than STRATCOM. The brigade mission is satellite communications. The current SMDC commanding general has been confirmed as the deputy commander of SPACECOM. I think the existing services will retain some space capabilities as our Space Force stands up.

  15. pl,
    I suppose we must be prepared to protect our commercial mining activities as they eventually extend to the Moon and asteroids. I see most of that commercial activity being carried out robotically. Any protection provided for those activities will most likely be robotic as well. It will be another mission control center in SPACECOM manned by Space Force personnel or contractors.
    I know you see something far beyond that. What do you expect to see as a far future Space Force.

  16. turcopolier says:

    There is so much equipment in black programs that I cannot forecast.

  17. blue peacock says:

    Funny you mentioned the OSI 7-layer network stack. This is an example of something designed by committee which was largely driven by the Europeans who have a penchant for committees and endless meetings. The OSI model was developed under the auspices of the International Standards Organization. Of course it was a commercial failure as TCP/IP just took off and became the de facto standard.
    BTW, this is why I’m long-term bearish on the Euro currency and the EU as a supra-national institution and bullish on US tech enterprise.

  18. Chris says:

    TTG, Maybe the link will work this time. I tried to make it non-active
    (Nope. There’s something in that URL that’s doing crazy stuff with Typepad. Don’t worry about it.)

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