Boeing Leveraging Commercial Technology For PTS Vision

Credit: Boeing

COLORADO SPRINGS—After a recent successful demonstration of its Protected Tactical Enterprise Services (PTES) ground system, Boeing is continuing to develop a Protected Tactical Satcom Prototype (PTS-P), leveraging its heritage on the Wideband Global Satcom program and commercial satellite technologies.

Northrop Grumman also is under contract to build a prototype, and both companies are expected to launch hosted payloads in 2024. 

The PTS program is expected to replace the tactical mission currently served by the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellation of six satellites. In addition to providing protected tactical communications to soldiers in the field, the constellation also provides secure communications for the nation’s most sensitive strategic missions. The PTS program is divided into three segments: the payload, ground and gateway.

Boeing sees the trends in satellite needs and technologies pull from the commercial market to the military.

“In the same way that the commercial customers want the flexibility to move the footprint of where they are servicing customers on the ground, the military wants that for the troop movements on the ground,” said Stu Eberhardt, senior director of business development at Boeing, speaking at the Space Symposium here. Boeing’s PTS-P prototype completed its critical design review in March.

Ryan Reid, president of Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems, International, says the company’s technology has evolved. Its first 10 Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites showed that it could manage power and bandwidth allocation. The company’s commercial 702x fully software defined payload for SES, the 03B mPower medium Earth orbit (MEO) constellation, is a completely flexible system. “You have access to commercial K-band spectrum for SES. It’s a completely phased-array antenna design,” Reid said. “So geographic coverage can be quite literally whatever you program is to be. Even if you have to suppress interference for whatever gateways or to counter interference or regulatory constraints.” 

They have taken the same architecture and core technologies from O3b and are using that on WGS-11 and then can add more hardened features for the government.

“It’s really a commercially developed technology we’re bringing over to the government,” Reid said.

The simple analogy, Eberhardt says, is taking a television with cathode ray tubes to a flat screen. “It’s now all digital,” Eberhardt says.

Capitalizing on technological development from its commercial business should bring value to the government, Reid said. 

Cordell DeLaPeña, program executive officer of Military Communications & Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT), said all of the programs are in development under PTS–the waveform, the space vehicle and the ground system. He added that Space Systems Command is looking at all options for follow-on architectures, and the Space Warfighting Analysis Center will define a layered approach. “Right now, PTES and tactical jamming, it’s going to give meaningful technology data demonstration about what performance will look like under different architectures.”

That trend toward disaggregation with satellites in multiple orbits makes sense, Eberhardt said.

“It fits with the market trends. The government doesn’t want to be stuck in one orbital regime, they want to be hybrid across all,” Eberhardt said. “We’re headed down that road with them and we think that’s the right approach. If you do want to disaggregate, that’s how you do it.”

Northrop completed its critical design review in September 2021, with a rapid prototyping plan and a path for launch in 2024 for on-orbit demos. “Since we’re doing in-stride risk-reduction efforts, we should be able to roll into production almost immediately after our demo is complete,” says Blake Bullock, vice president for communications systems at Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems. 

“I can’t share a lot about our architecture due to competitive and proprietary reasons,” Bullock says. “But I am really excited about it in that we are going to provide an affordable, high-performance architecture that will offer options to our customer insofar as production and fielding.” 

Jen DiMascio

Based in Washington, Jen manages Aviation Week’s worldwide defense, space and security coverage.