Hoeven: SDA Expanding LEO Satellite Mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base with Construction of Second Ops Center

Senator Worked to Bring Satellite Test Center to Grand Forks

EMERADO, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven and Space Development Agency (SDA) Director Derek Tournear today announced an expansion of SDA’s operations at the Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB) through the construction of the Satellite Test and Checkout Center (TCC). The 25,000 sq. ft. facility will support the SDA low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite mission, which will serve as the backbone for all U.S. military communications. Specifically, the TCC will conduct initial operations for the hundreds of satellites SDA will launch in coming years, testing their components and verifying they are ready to join the SDA network. When the center is completed in 2026, the LEO satellite mission will:

  • Consist of three facilities, including the operations center in Grand Forks, a similar operations facility at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, and the TCC. Through his role on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven secured:
    • $18 million in construction funding in fiscal year (FY) 2022 for the two operations centers.
    • $4 million in FY2023 to jumpstart construction of the TCC.
    • An additional $4 million in the Senate’s FY2024 funding legislation for the TCC construction and will work to provide the final $4 million in FY2025, bringing the total construction funding for the three facilities to $30 million.
  • Have the capacity to employ up to 250 people at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

In addition, the mission is supported by a nearly $325 million operations and integration (O&I) contract to establish the Space Networking Center, which Hoeven worked to fund and SDA awarded to General Dynamics Missions Systems and Iridium in FY22. The Space Networking Center will support the first layer of the SDA’s satellite operations, which is designed to transport data and facilitate communications. SDA will begin launching that tranche of satellites in 2024, with additional layers to follow, including:

  • A tracking layer, to provide warning of advanced missile threats.
  • A targeting layer, to ensure constant access to targets around the world.
  • A battle management layer, to support command and control of Department of Defense assets.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates SDA’s long-term commitment to its operations at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Together with Director Tournear, we’ve worked to secure $30 million in construction funding for the mission’s facilities, as well as $325 million to support its ongoing operations,” said Senator Hoeven. “The LEO satellite mission places North Dakota at the center of U.S. military operations, enabling members of every branch of our Armed Forces to execute their missions anywhere in the world. Moreover, this mission builds upon the wide array of partnerships we’ve worked to bring to this region, further positioning Grand Forks to offer unmatched support to future missions as well as research and development opportunities.”

“The Space Development Agency’s presence at Grand Forks Air Force Base is critical to the agency’s success, both in terms of geography, and because it allows our proximity to some of today’s most important warfighting missions,” said Derek Tournear, SDA Director. “Development of our Tranche 1 Space Networking Operations Center is well underway and the addition of the SDA Test and Checkout Center on the base will allow us to support near-continuous launch into the future. We are very grateful for the outstanding support we’ve received from the base, the community, and the state of North Dakota as we put in place the ground systems needed to support the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.”

Standing up SDA’s LEO Mission

In 2021, Senator Hoeven announced Air Force approval to stand-up SDA’s new LEO satellite mission at Grand Forks, following his efforts with the SDA, including Director Tournear, and Senator Kevin Cramer. Over time, the mission could include not only operating SDA satellites but linking them with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which would complement the base’s role in the Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. 

Prior to this, Hoeven hosted SDA Director Tournear in North Dakota to outline efforts to establish the new center and announce the new laser communications project, which SDA is pursuing in conjunction with General Atomics. The senator also joined Tournear to review launch operations at Cape Canaveral, where the SDA launched five satellites central to the space networking center and the General Atomics project.