Quintillion Networks and ATLAS Space Operations completed construction of a satellite ground station for polar orbiting satellites at 72 degrees latitude in Utqiagvik, Alaska, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. The 3.7-meter antenna supports S and X band transmission. Credit: Atlas Space Operations

SAN FRANCISCO – Atlas Space Operations announced a Defense Innovation Unit contract June 8 to demonstrate a hybrid network linking Defense Department, civil government and commercial satellites.

For Atlas, “some of the tangible benefits will be the knowledge that we gain in the integration with the Department of Defense and our civil agent,” Ed McCarty, Atlas vice president of global sales, told SpaceNews. “They all do things a little bit differently.”

In addition, winning the DIU Hybrid Space Architecture award puts Atlas in a strong position to compete for the U.S. Space Force Enterprise Resource Management (ERM). The Space Force Space Enterprise Consortium announced ERM in November, a Space Systems Command program to support its Enterprise Corps Cross-Mission Ground Data Transport Branch.

“We hope that we’re able to convince Space System Command that we already have demonstrated the capabilities that they want to capture in ERM,” McCarty said.

The Defense Department is looking for ways to take advantage of the proliferation of commercial satellites and ground stations to create resilient hybrid networks capable of transmitting data at multiple classification levels. Rather than communicating with each network independently, the Defense Department is asking companies for help integrating the networks.

“With the award of the Hybrid Space Architecture network, we’ll be able to demonstrate a federated capability with a Department of Defense antenna, a civil antenna and commercial antennas,” McCarty said. “The government, through one of their mission operations centers, will be able to access an entire network through a single API using the Atlas Freedom software platform. This is the first time it’s ever been done.”

One of the reasons the Defense Department has proceeded cautiously in creating hybrid networks is security. The DIU Hybrid Space Architecture solicitation released in October notes the network data transport must not compromise “information assurance or cybersecurity.”

“There will be technical hurdles that we need to overcome to make sure that we are compliant with Defense Department networks,” said Brad Bode, Atlas chief technology officer. “We’ll spend quite a bit of time checking out all the security requirements to ensure that we’re still accredited and validated in our system and not violating any of the government restrictions.”

The Atlas Freedom Network, which is integrated with Amazon Web Services, includes 13 global teleports and 14 antennas.

Traverse City, Michigan-based Atlas won its first Defense Department contract in 2018 to provide satellite communications for a U.S. Air Force Academy satellite. Since then, the company has worked under Air Force Small Business Innovation Research contracts to develop a ground segment to support hybrid space networks.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...