Derek Tournear, Director, Space Development Agency

Derek Tournear

Director, Space Development Agency

Derek M. Tournear has an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and holds a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University. He has professional experience at Los Alamos National Laboratory managing intelligence and defense programs. He was a Program Manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Tactical Technology Office and Strategic Technology Office. He was a Senior Program Manager at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

Dr. Tournear has also held leadership roles in industry, including in research and development of advanced technical solutions addressing the top national security threats from underwater to outer space. 

He is presently the Director of the Space Development Agency within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. 

In the News…

The U.S. military has become increasingly interested in using satellite imagery to extend its situational awareness and beyond-the-line-of-sight targeting, largely because of two developments. 

First is the emergency of low-latency networks, like the Space Development Agency’s forthcoming transport layer, a mesh network made up of satellites on orbit connected by optical, intersatellite links; and, second, the growing number of commercial satellite imagery providers that means there is a massive amount of raw space-based sensor data for them to access. 

The Space Development Agency has announced that it was teaming with Capella Space, a synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, provider, to link its satellites directly to the transport layer. 

“We’re working with them so they can put one of our compliant, optical, intersatellite links directly on their satellites so that then they can plug directly to our transport layer. We would love to do that with all commercial ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] providers,” SDA Director Derek Tournear said. 

Director Tournear sees the data from multiple commercial and government space-based sensors feeding into the transport layer, where it can be fused on orbit before being sent down to the soldier via the Link 16 tactical network. The director said it’s a win-win for the government and commercial providers: Providers would be able to offer their services directly to users without having to downlink and deliver it independently, while the government gets faster and more direct access to commercial data streams. 


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