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Rapidly Integrated Tactical Communications Payload


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Electronics, Space Platforms 

OBJECTIVE: Develop a tactical communications payload for small commercial satellites that enables communications with tactical users without the need for new radio terminals or modifications on ships, aircraft, or other platforms. 

DESCRIPTION: The loss of a single communications link should not lead to disaster for our warfighters. Diverse communications paths are required to ensure reliable communication in a variety of austere scenarios. A number of “new space” satellite communications (SATCOM) constellations are being designed and developed to provide ubiquitous worldwide coverage to a variety of customers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved U.S. operation of a new non-geosynchronous orbit (NGSO) satellite constellation. The Navy and other Department of Defense users could leverage these constellations for improved coverage and capacity in a number of scenarios. A key roadblock is the high cost to integrate new radio terminals on ships, aircraft, and other platforms. One solution to this problem is to develop a tactical communications payload that can be hosted on a commercial constellation(s) and translate the communications waveform and protocol to ones already supported by existing tactical radios. The envisioned architecture would likely include a ground entry point where tactical data joins the commercial SATCOM network(s). The commercial SATCOM system would route the data to the appropriate satellite and then pass the data to the onboard tactical communications payload. From there, the data would be translated into a tactical waveform/protocol and sent to tactical users on ships, planes, and other platforms. If the service used is bi-directional (i.e. not a broadcast), data could also flow in the opposite direction, from tactical users back to the ground entry point. The tactical communications payload must provide an open interface Reference 1 to a variety of commercial constellation satellites. The interface to the commercial network is to be determined, but would likely use serial, Ethernet, or other common spacecraft electrical protocols. The system must act as a node on the host satellites’ communication network so it can receive data from the network that is intended for tactical users. The tactical communications payload must communicate with existing ship, air, and other platform radios. The payload should include all radio frequency components necessary to communicate, including an antenna. The payload is only expected to use one protocol/waveform at once. The ability to switch or update waveforms is of interest but is not required. The following are examples of possible tactical communications protocols/waveforms; however, this list is not exhaustive and other commonly used tactical protocols/waveforms may be proposed. Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) SATCOM waveforms/protocols could include the Integrated Waveform, Integrated Broadcast Service, or Common Interactive Broadcast (CIB). Link 16 (i.e., tactical data link that is specified in MIL-STD-6016) is a possibility in the L-band (i.e. operating frequency range of 1–2 GHz in the radio spectrum). A CubeSat would likely be used for initial low-cost demonstration of the technology. In general, proposed payloads should: • Meet the CubeSat Design Specifications Reference 2; • Stow within a volume approximately 10x10x30 centimeters or ideally smaller; • Have 5 kilograms or less mass; • Survive the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) space environment for at least two years; • Operate at less than 25 Watts while transmitting, less than 5 Watts in receive mode (if any) and less than 2 Watts in standby mode. 

PHASE I: Develop a concept and determine feasibility for the development of a tactical communications payload for small commercial satellites. Create an initial conceptual design for development of a prototype system in Phase II. Predict payload performance using modeling and simulation or other tools. Consider spacecraft integration issues. Estimate the mass, volume, and power requirements. 

PHASE II: Build a prototype tactical communications payload and test it in the space environment. Improve the payload design based on feedback from Phase I and from Phase II testing. Demonstrate communications operation of the prototype with an existing tactical radio terminal. Demonstrate operation of the prototype in a simulated space environment to include thermal vacuum and vibration testing (see Reference 2 for testing requirements). Evaluate measured performance characteristics versus payload performance predictions from Phase I and make design adjustments as necessary. 

PHASE III: Integrate the tactical communications payload with a CubeSat bus and launch into LEO for testing. Demonstrate interoperability with existing tactical communications systems. The technologies developed under this topic can be applied to a variety of commercial SmallSat missions that are currently in design and development. A number of commercial space firms have stated plans or already begun to develop large communications satellite missions in LEO. This technology could become part of those systems. 


1: "Naval Open Architecture." Defense Acquisition University – Acquisition Community Connection.

2:  CubeSat, Developer Resources

3:  "The Navy's Needs in Space for Providing Future Capabilities." National Research Council

4:  Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

5:  Naval Studies Board

6:  Committee on the Navy's Needs in Space for Providing Future Capabilities, 2005, National Academies Press.

7:  United States Navy, Program Executive Office Space Systems (PEO Space Systems) – Programs Overview.

KEYWORDS: MUOS; CubeSat; Nanosat; SmallSat; WCDMA; Satellite; Communications; Cellular; 3G 


Jeffrey Person 

(619) 553-1020 

Austin Mroczek 

(619) 221-7749 

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