U.S. Space Force reaches out to industry for electronic surveillance and communications satellite payloads

March 24, 2023
Solicitation is to design, build, demonstrate, and support three prototype Sabre satellite sensor and communications payloads for NEXT satellites.

CHANTILLY, Va. – U.S. Space Force satellite experts are reaching out to industry for new orbiting surveillance and communications payloads that will be part of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation that tracks hundreds of thousands of aircraft flying over the Earth.

Officials of the Space Force's Space Development Agency (SDA) in Chantilly, Va., issued a solicitation this week (SDA-PS-23-02) for the Sabre project to add electromagnetic surveillance; position, navigation, and timing (PNT); and communications relays to Iridium NEXT satellites.

This solicitation is to design, build, demonstrate, and support three prototype Sabre satellite sensor and communications payloads for NEXT satellites.

The Sabre payload has three functions:

Related: Eyes in the sky - today's military SATCOM

-- collect and relay telemetry from ballistic hypersonic test missiles at U.S. missile test ranges;

-- act as an alternative positioning, navigation, and timing system; and;

-- provide electronic support (ES) to gather military intelligence using electronic surveillance and collection devices aboard NEXT satellites that will help U.S. forces carry out electronic warfare (EW) attacks.

Related: Navy asking industry for communications and surveillance technologies that extend from seabed to space

Iridium NEXT, which entered service in February 2019, tracks hundreds of thousands of aircraft operating over the Earth to help improve how air traffic is managed. The constellation of 75 satellites also provides telecommunication coverage all over Earth. Iridium NEXT can help report the location, speed, and altitude of aircraft flying out of reach of land-based air traffic control receiver towers.

Space Force plans call for deploying the Sabre constellation by commercial launch services from Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder Colo. -- the NEXT program prime contractor. The first launch is set for December 2024. Major subsystems of Sabre will include antenna, radio, signal processor, power amplifier, and payload ground support.

Sabre satellites will communicate via Ka-band RF uplinks and downlinks, optical uplinks and downlinks, and in-plane and cross-plane optical intersatellite links.

Sabre satellite payloads will consist of hardware, software, firmware, control, data processing, onboard data storage, encryption, and cyber security. Proposers should describe how the compromise of one Sabre payload will not affect the NEXT host satellite and the larger NEXT data network.

Related: L3Harris to upgrade space electronic warfare (EW) system reversibly to deny SATCOM, and early warning

The Alternate PNT Sabre subsystem must broadcast an unclassified signal to legacy receivers in the field that are not equipped with encryption devices.

Space Force officials prefer body steering of the NEXT satellite for pointing Sabre payload antennas. Nominal steering rates are insufficient to track fast-moving test missiles, which limits the Sabre Telemetry Relay system to capturing a snapshot of telemetry as the test missile transits the payload antenna field of view.

Companies interested should submit proposals no later than 17 April 2023 via DoD Secure Access File Exchange (SAFE), which is online at https://safe.apps.mil. Request a SAFE Drop-off Request by 12 April 2023 b y email to [email protected].

More information is online at https://sam.gov/opp/383fd34667384149abbba6a4730e19e3/view.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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