DIRECT TO PHASE II - Direct Delivery of Commercial Earth Observation Data to DoD Using Proliferated Low Earth Orbit Transport Layer

Navy SBIR 23.2 - Topic N232-D08
NAVSEA - Naval Sea Systems Command
Pre-release 4/19/23   Opens to accept proposals 5/17/23   Closes 6/14/23 12:00pm ET

N232-D08 TITLE: DIRECT TO PHASE II – Direct Delivery of Commercial Earth Observation Data to DoD Using Proliferated Low Earth Orbit Transport Layer

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Space Technology;Trusted AI and Autonomy

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop an Intersatellite Link (ISL) capability to deliver secure data to the Navy via Government communication transport satellites to reduce latency of data delivery to warfighters.

DESCRIPTION: The warfighters need data in near real time to perform mission planning in areas of naval conflict. In order for this to be achieved, ISLs can be used to reduce the latency of data delivery to the warfighter, reduce the complexity of direct downlink (DDL) coordination, and increase access to areas of interest (AOIs) by removing the constraints for ground stations being required to be located in the same geographic area as the observation point. Traditional satellite data delivery exploits radio frequency (RF) communications between satellites and ground stations. In order for satellites to communicate with each other, a ground station must route the data received from one satellite’s downlink to another satellite’s uplink. Current data delivery methods entail a significant latency of 30 to 90 minutes. This is because satellites must wait until they pass over a fixed ground station to downlink the data. The Space Development Agency (SDA) is currently reaching out to industry for help increasing capabilities amongst Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (pLEO) satellites by using ISLs. ISLs create an orbital mesh network between hundreds of satellites. Using ISLs allows satellites to directly communicate with each other rather than having to downlink to a ground station then uplink to another satellite. The government seeks a solution to accept direct delivery of commercial earth observation to a government owned pLEO system with an initial focus on the emerging SDA tranche 1 transport layer. Currently nothing exists to provide this solution.

SDA has developed the Transport Layer, an experimental military LEO satellite constellation designed to transfer data more rapidly, to get the tactical information needed to the warfighter. This constellation is planned to have 300 to 500+ LEO satellites. Typical delivery methods of commercial observation data from commercial companies to DoD customers comprises downlinking sensor data to a fixed commercial ground station and delivering products to Government data repositories 30 minutes to 12 hours after observation. With the advent of DoD pLEO constellations there is an opportunity for inter-orbit delivery of commercial earth observation data to DoD pLEO transportation layers. This will require link acquisition between the commercial company and the transportation layer, routing of the data, and negotiation of bandwidth and link resources.

The Transport Layer is designed to connect DOD sensors and combat systems by utilizing earth observation satellites and ground stations. It is envisioned with a full constellation to have at least two satellites in view of 95% of locations on earth at any given time, while 99% will have at least one satellite in view (i.e., constant coverage). SDA is expected to launch Tranche 0 in 2023, which will consist of 20 satellites and have a limited networked capability. Tranche 1 is expected to launch in 2024 and will have 126 satellites. Tranche 1 will leverage the capabilities demonstrated in Tranche 0 while also integrating capabilities using Link-16 and Integrated Broadcast System (IBS). Leveraging these capabilities in conjunction with the ISLs to interoperate with commercial sensing systems will enhance warfighter capabilities by providing near real-time critical target information and reducing latency and path loss of downlinked data within 60 seconds of observation and = 5 minutes for fully rendered images. By leveraging these capabilities the tasking, collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TCPED) kill-chain gains impact from direct uplink from MTC - A/X, and is able to evaluate end-to-end impacts to existing commercial architecture. The Transport layer is expected be able to reach an altitude between 900-1100 km as well achieve a crosslink in the SDA Optical Communications Terminal which will be provided during contract award.

Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. Owned and Operated with no Foreign Influence as defined by DOD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this contract as set forth by DCSA and NAVSEA in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advance phases of this contract.

PHASE I: For a Direct to Phase II topic, the Government expects that the small business would have accomplished the following in a Phase I-type effort and developed a concept for a workable prototype or design to address, at a minimum, the basic requirements of the stated objective above. The below actions would be required in order to satisfy the requirements of Phase I:

• Develop an ISLs concept for a low latency secure data delivery capability between earth observation satellites and the Government.

• Demonstrate key attributes of the concept feasibility to meet the Navy needs as stated in the Description. Key attributes include, but are not limited to, tasking, collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TCPED) performance gains by adding the ISL capability to the space layer, impact from Direct Uplink from MTC-A/X, and evaluating end-to-end impacts to existing commercial architecture.

• Feasibility must be demonstrated through modeling and analysis.

FEASIBILITY DOCUMENTATION: Offerors interested in participating in Direct to Phase II must include in their response to this topic Phase I feasibility documentation that substantiates the scientific and technical merit and Phase I feasibility described in Phase I above has been met (i.e., the small business must have performed Phase I-type research and development related to the topic NOT solely based on work performed under prior or ongoing federally funded SBIR/STTR work) and describe the potential commercialization applications. The documentation provided must validate that the proposer has completed development of technology as stated in Phase I above. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to: technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results. Work submitted within the feasibility documentation must have been substantially performed by the offeror and/or the principal investigator (PI). Read and follow all of the DON SBIR 23.2 Direct to Phase II Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) Instructions. Phase I proposals will NOT be accepted for this topic.

PHASE II: Develop and deliver an ISL prototype for a low latency secure data delivery capability between earth observation satellites and the Government. The prototype will be evaluated to determine the capability meets performance goals defined in the Phase II development plan and the Navy requirements.

Additionally, develop a Phase III development plan with performance goals and key technical milestones that scales the ISL solution across the earth observation satellite constellation.

It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details).

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Clearly identify and describe the expected transition of the product/process/service within the government as a result of the Phase II in which the small business will participate under a Phase III.

Support the Navy in transitioning the technology for use in MTC-A/X. Develop the ISL for evaluation to determine its effectiveness in providing faster more secure data delivery to the warfighter. Support the Navy for testing and validation to certify and qualify the capability for Navy use.

Integrate ISL solution across all future commercial earth observation satellites that are replenishing the constellation pending results from the prototype integration events.

As technology continues to be improved over time, cloud-based applications are increasing services. This requires a constant reliable connection in order to receive and transmit data wherever operational. This is especially important with mobile and remote operations, similar to ships at sea. ‘Always on’ data delivery is also often used in the oil and gas industry for a "digital oilfield" where they need to consistently and rapidly move large quantities of data around the world.


  1. Strout, Nathan. "Space Development Agency Wants to Update Standard for its Orbital Mesh Network" C4ISRNet, 21-April 2021.
  2. Erwin, Sandra. "Space Development Agency Revises Transport Layer Procurement, With Fewer Satellites Per Launch" Space News, 27-September 2021.
  3. KEYWORDS: Satellite Downlink; Transport Layer; Proliferated Low Earth Orbit; Space Development Agency; Orbital Mesh Network; Intersatellite Links; Latency.

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