An industry team consisting of Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace and Kratos Defense & Security Solutions has been awarded a $7.2 million (€6.5 million) US Defense Innovation Unit contract to develop a new Multi-Band, Multi-Mission (MBMM) prototype phased array as part of a broader initiative to modernise the existing Air Force Satellite Control Network and implement new technology faster. MBMM enables multiple satellites to connect simultaneously with a single array antenna over multiple frequencies, a significant performance improvement compared to traditional single contact parabolic dishes.
The Lockheed Martin team is building prototype transmit and receive electronically-steerable arrays (ESA). Each array uses Ball’s advanced phased array technologies and will initially support L- and S-band frequencies. Signal processing is accomplished with Kratos’ digital intermediate frequency (IF) technology and cloud-enabled quantumRadio.
“MBMM is a smarter way to quickly and affordably scale satellite transmission while lowering long-term maintenance costs for the Air Force […] Today, when a parabolic antenna goes down, it can take days to repair; with MBMM, it will take hours and won’t take the entire site offline – that’s a tremendous advantage,” explained Lockheed Martin Mission Solutions Vice President and General Manager, Maria Demaree.
Extensive industry research comparing the costs of parabolic antennas to phased arrays over time shows that, while parabolic antennas have a lower upfront cost, they become much more expensive to maintain. Phased arrays avoid the mechanical maintenance and keyhole effects of their parabolic counterparts, while providing graceful degradation and electronic agility in matching aperture performance to constellation demands.
“One electronically-steered antenna can replace multiple dishes, enabling better performance, connectivity and affordability,” added Ball Aerospace Vice President and General Manager, Tactical Solutions, Rob Freedman.
“Software modems deployed in virtual machines gives MBMM an advantage because it is easy to scale signal processing on a much faster timeline than previously,” observed Kratos Federal Space Senior Vice President, Frank Backes.
Future operational MBMM systems will offer new cyber resilience while reducing long-term sustainment costs for the Air Force. MBMM may eventually support multiple orbits from LEO to GEO and can perform multiple missions simultaneously, including command and control, launch pad and ascent operations, plus radar and mission data transmission. The Lockheed Martin/Ball team is one of several building prototypes for the government.