Space Force Prepares Narrowband Satellite Communications Solicitation

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WASHINGTON — The US Space Force plans to issue a solicitation early next year for two Mobile User Objective System satellites, a multi-billion effort to ensure military users have access to secure communications.

The service operates four active MUOS spacecraft and one spare in orbit, all built by Lockheed Martin under a program initiated by the Navy but transferred to the Space Force in March. Narrowband communications satellites operate in the 300 MHz to 3 GHz frequency range, making them less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and ideal for secure information transfer.

Barbara Baker, deputy program director for Space Systems Command’s Military Satellite Communications and Positioning, Navigation and Timing Directorate, confirmed to C4ISRNET this week the service plans to request bids from companies for early design and risk reduction work in early 2023.

The Space Force revealed in its fiscal year 2023 budget request that it plans to spend $3.7 billion to develop two more satellites to be launched by the end of the decade. This includes $165 million for fiscal year 2023 and $1.4 billion over the next five years.

The acquisition aims to extend the life of the constellation and is the result of a series of studies initiated by the Navy and continued by the Space Force. Lockheed, Northrop Grumman and Boeing — three of the world’s top four military contractors, according to a 2022 Defense News analysis — all participated in these studies. Space Force can choose more than one company for the first phase, which would be followed by a competition between these companies.

Baker said in an Oct. 14 email that the service had not set a timeline for awarding a contract. She said the satellites will have common user interfaces with other systems in orbit and could carry new capabilities, but did not provide details.

“Satellites. . . will meet or exceed current system performance requirements and have compatible interfaces to ensure seamless integration with MUOS ground systems and continuity of operations,” she said.

Today’s MUOS satellites, which replaced the ultra-high frequency tracking system, carry two payloads – one to maintain the legacy UHF network and a second that provides new wide-area code division multiple access capability. bandaged. The system is designed to provide 10 times the capacity of its predecessor.

Justin Keller, director of advanced programs and military space at Lockheed, told C4ISRNET Oct. 9 that the company participated in an industry day in September with Space Force and other potential vendors. The service’s message, he said, is that they want a low-risk solution that puts the schedule first.

“Their number 1 goal is timing and low risk, and we’re 100% behind that,” he said. “I think the government, the Space Force, has come up with a really good plan to get us there.”

Focus on resilience

Along with managing schedule and risk, Space Force is prioritizing resiliency as it performs near-term upgrades to systems such as MUOS and lays out plans for future releases of these constellations. . The service is expected to begin analysis next year to examine its long-term narrowband communication needs.

Keller noted that for satellites like these that weren’t designed to withstand cyber threats and enemy jamming, balancing those requirements can be a challenge. Space Force has not disclosed what limited resiliency measures it might want for the sixth and seventh MUOS spacecraft, as these capabilities are often classified.

“They hope to solve these problems [threats] it won’t interfere with their schedule,” he said. “We worked a lot on that.”

As the Space Force moves forward with plans to purchase more MUOS satellites, lawmakers have expressed concerns about the performance of the current capability. The program has experienced significant go-live delays, particularly with terminals and equipment that allow users to log into the system. A 2021 Government Accountability Office report found that ground staff were unable to take full advantage of the satellite’s more advanced features.

In the Senate’s version of the fiscal year 2023 defense policy bill, lawmakers referenced GAO’s work and called for a demonstration of a “narrowband gap-filling” capability of by January 2025. The Senate Armed Services Committee also wants a report on the state of MUOS work.

Keller noted that while the program has experienced setbacks, user feedback has improved as more terminals come into service.

“Now that they have the terminals, all we’ve heard is universal praise for the particular quality of service compared to what they had before,” he said.

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