SpaceX missile-tracking satellite launch delayed at least three months

satellite in orbit around earth
Artist's conception of an L3Harris satellite set to deploy during a missile-tracking program for the Space Development Agency. (Image credit: L3Harris)

The debut of a new U.S. missile defense system will have to wait.

SpaceX's forecasted launch of the first part of anti-satellite weapon tracking system, called Tranche 0, will push from late September to December at the least due to supply chain problems and the aftereffects of bid protests, according to reports.

Tracking hypersonic weapons such as those being developed by China and Russia is a priority of the Department of Defense, but the director of its acquisition arm for Tranche 0 told reporters at a Washington, D.C. conference that the launch timeline was optimistic. 

"It's more of an ego hit to us than anything," Derek Tournear, director of the Space Development Agency, said at the Washington Space Business Roundtable, according to Defense News.

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The news comes amid numerous recent developments in U.S. hypersonic weapons (generally defined as those that fly at speeds of at least Mach 5). New U.S. military work includes flight tests of hypersonic air-breathing weapon concepts and new prototypes for hypersonic weapon defense. In addition to Tranche 0, the United States has also launched six satellites to make up its new Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO) constellation.

SDA planned the first of two launches of its 28 satellites in about two weeks, including 20 communications payloads from Lockheed Martin and York Space, and eight missile-tracking infrared sensor satellites from SpaceX and L3 Harris, according to SpaceNews.

Tournear principally blamed supply chain issues in microchips, referring to a COVID-19-induced shipping issue that has hurt industries ranging from gaming consoles to car manufacturing. (The U.S. is counteracting that by seeking to manufacture more microchips domestically under the CHIPS Act, just signed into law last month.)

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hypersonic weapon flying above clouds

Hypersonic weapons are a matter of intense focus by the U.S. military, along with tracking those from adversaries. (Image credit: Northrop Grumman)

The SDA director also pointed to a delay in starting Tranche 0 after bid protests from Raytheon and Airbus, contesting the awards to L3Harris and SpaceX, along with software development issues. But everything likely would have been on track absent the supply chain issues, he noted.

"The longest pole in the tent that caused those satellites to slip was actually component delays, primarily stemming from microelectronics," he said in the SpaceNews report. "It was very difficult for us to get microelectronics, especially space qualified microelectronics for components such as radios."

Tournear added there are no forecasted delays for future launches of the system; SDA's missile-tracking system is now developing and awarding contracts for the Tranche 1 tracking layer that should launch around the middle of the decade.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: