T1TL mesh constellation_Northrop Grumman.

The Space Development Agency will begin launching its Tranche 1 Transport Layer communications mesh network in 2024. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

WASHINGTON: Northrop Grumman has successfully demonstrated a new encrypted laser communications system to equip satellites being developed for the Space Development Agency’s future communications mesh network, the company announced today.

The SDA network is being designed to provide a foundation for the Pentagon’s ambitious Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept, which is being implemented to enable the US military’s future plans for all-domain warfare.

“We invested in this demonstration because we wanted to reduce key risks early in development,” Blake Bullock, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for communication systems, strategic space systems, said in the company’s press release.

Optical inter-satellite links (OISL) are considered the main challenge to the successful development of a high-speed, low latency data communications network in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Specifically, the release elaborated, the test “validated compatibility between commercially developed laser communication and secure U.S. government encryption hardware, providing a baseline for Northrop Grumman’s future proliferated space crosslink communications offerings.”

The defense prime also for the first time revealed that its partners in developing the secure OISL system: laser communications firm Mynaric and space avionics company Innoflight.

For the demo, Mynaric provided its CONDOR Mk2 Optical Communications Terminal but will provide its Mk3 version of the terminal for the SDA’s so-called Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) constellation, a Northrop Grumman official told Breaking Defense.

Bulent Altan, Mynaric’s CEO, told Breaking Defense in an email that the original CONDOR optical communications terminal “was primarily developed for proliferated LEO constellations” such as SDA’s T1TL. “Based on customer feedback, we created the Mk3 which is mass-manufacturable, smaller and lighter in comparison to predecessors. While this demonstration utilized these predecessors, we will deliver the next generation CONDOR Mk3 terminals for the Tranche 1 Transport layer program featuring more than 10 times the data rate.”

Innoflight provided its High-Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor (HAIPE) encryption device, the Northrop Grumman official said, noting that the device is the first of its kind on track for US government certification, expected later this year. Innoflight did not respond to a request for comment by press time

SDA in February awarded contracts to three firms, totaling $1.8 billion, for the T1TL constellation, with each company to develop and build 42 prototype satellites to be delivered in time for launch to begin in September 2024. The contract amounts, however are different: Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems’s contract was worth approximately $692 million; Lockheed Martin’s, approximately $700 million; and York Space Systems’s, approximately $382 million.

The agency asked for almost $987 million in fiscal year 2023 for the T1TL research and development.



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