WASHINGTON — The Air Force Research Laboratory has ordered a Viasat-3 space terminal that will be used to demonstrate communications services for low-Earth orbit spacecraft.
Viasat will deliver a space-qualified Ka-band terminal that will be launched to orbit on a LEO satellite and serve as a data communications relay to the ViaSat-3 network.
AFRL will use the terminal for high data rate LEO-to-GEO communications, said Lt. Col. David Johnson, head of the lab’s Integrated Experiments and Evaluations Division.
Viasat received a $10 million task order from AFRL for the Viasat-3 space terminal, Johnson said in a statement to SpaceNews.
The task order is part of a seven-year contract worth up to $50 million that AFRL awarded Viasat in 2020 for satellite communications technologies and services.
Satellite operator Viasat on April 30 launched the first of three planned Viasat-3 Ka-band broadband satellites
Data transfer via Viasat-3
LEO satellites that collect Earth observation data, for example, would use Viasat’s space relay service to send data through the Viasat-3 high-throughput satellite.
“Having the persistent capability to communicate to LEO spacecraft by relaying through a constellation of spacecraft in geosynchronous Earth orbit can enable the ability to maintain almost near constant communication with those LEO spacecraft,” Johnson said.
The relay service using the Viasat-3 satellite, “once proven, would enable reduced response time for mission-tasking or spacecraft anomalies and frees up bandwidth on government ground communications assets,” he said.
AFRL’s project, Johnson said, is “focused on providing 24-7 persistent command and control capabilities to LEO spacecraft by utilizing GEO constellations that are always in view of ground stations.”
Viasat in a June 7 news release said the AFRL mission will be the first pathfinder demonstration of the company’s space relay service expected to become available in late 2025.
In addition to a Ka-band space relay payload, Viasat will provide engineering analysis, integration and test support for the on-orbit demonstration.
Craig Miller, president of Viasat Government Systems, said this “real-time space relay capability will offer an efficient method of moving LEO satellite data to the ground for operations.”