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The Space Development Agency (SDA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a Tranche 0 contract for the Space Transport Layer to demonstrate a mesh network of 10 small satellites that links terrestrial warfighting domains to space sensors – all launching in just two years, the company announced on 1 September.

The $187.5 million (€158.5 million) contract is an initial test and demonstration phase, with two prime contractors building a total of 20 satellites; Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems. The first step toward building an interoperable, connected secure mesh network, it will help enable Joint All-Domain Operations, allowing warfighters to stay ahead of emerging threats. By linking nodes together, seamless connectivity is created between all domains, much like today’s smartphones.

We see a world across all warfighting domains where fourth- and fifth-generation fighters and tactical forces on the ground can connect seamlessly with holistic situational awareness,” observed Kay Sears, VP and General Manager of Lockheed Martin Military Space. “Interoperability and battlespace connectivity are critical to staying ahead of our adversaries.”

The 10 satellites, operating in low earth orbit, will provide secure high-bandwidth, low-latency data links. Additionally, new Link 16 network connectivity will be introduced to space. This capability will connect to systems that include combat aircraft like the F-16, F-22 and F-35, missile defence networks such as PAC-3 and THAAD, weapons systems and Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) networks, providing sensor-to-shooter targeting and situational awareness for tactical land and maritime combat units.

This beyond-line-of-site tracking, targeting and communications capability will dramatically extend US tactical and strategic options; it also allows additional coalition and allied partners to eventually bring their capabilities into the network. Interoperability extends into space with prospective data connections to commercial satcom and other military protected satcom systems, which will require close partnership with multiple companies.

Each Transport Layer satellite will be fully software-defined using SmartSat, Lockheed Martin’s platform that makes it easier to rapidly add and change missions dynamically in orbit through simple app uploads. The satellites will also be fully cyber-hardened from day one, using the company’s Cyber Resiliency Level model to identify cyber strengths and weaknesses so we can address those early in the design process.

The Transport Layer contributes to resilience in space communications. Mission resilience comes from being able to form a seamless network of networks, with network nodes spanning multiple domains and services provided via multiple tactical data links, making it much harder for an adversary to disrupt because of network diversity and node distribution.


The two demonstration contracts will create a corpus of knowledge on which future developments will depend as threat and countermeasure continue to evolve hand in hand. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

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