WASHINGTON — Boeing is setting its sights on two upcoming big-ticket satellite procurements from the U.S. Space Force, leveraging its recent contracts for Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites and its foothold in commercial spacecraft manufacturing. 

The Space Force is expected to seek bids this coming year for highly specialized, jam-resistant satellite systems that the military deems “no fail” assets, meaning that they must deliver secure communications even in the most contested environments.

“The government is looking for mature and low-risk technologies,” said Michelle Parker, vice president for space mission systems at Boeing Defense, Space & Security. 

The company is positioning to compete for these Space Force satellite procurements by adapting commercial technology for military use, Parker told SpaceNews in a recent interview. 

“It’s a really exciting time in military satcom,” she said. 

The first program on Boeing’s radar is the Protected Tactical Satcom, or PTS, a future constellation of encrypted communications satellites. The other is the Evolved Strategic Satcom program, also known as ESS, to develop a network of nuclear-survivable satellites to facilitate communications during a conflict.

The Space Force is evaluating two PTS prototype payload designs, one by Boeing and the other by Northrop Grumman, that could launch for in-orbit demonstrations in 2025. Boeing plans to launch its PTS prototype payload on the WGS-11 satellite it is producing under a $605 million contract awarded in 2019. Northrop Grumman’s PTS payload will fly on a dedicated spacecraft

After the demonstrations, the Space Force will seek bids for the production of PTS payloads. Congress approved $233 million for the program in fiscal year 2024, and the Pentagon requested $597 million for PTS in 2025. 

Strategic satellite communications

The second major satcom procurement planned by the Space Force is ESS, short for Evolved Strategic Satcom, a critical component of the U.S. military’s nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) network that provides nuclear-survivable connectivity.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman were selected in 2020 to design ESS satellite prototypes. These satellites are intended to augment and eventually replace the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) network of nuclear-hardened satellites made by Lockheed Martin.

Congress appropriated $505 million for ESS in 2024, and DoD is requesting $1 billion for the program in fiscal year 2025. The Space Force is expected to seek bids this year for further developed ESS prototypes.

In these military programs, Parker said, Boeing is leveraging its “integrated payload array” that was used for WGS-11, the recently awarded $439 million WGS-12 and the commercial O3b satellites built for global satcom operator SES. 

“It’s evolved a bit for military use, but it’s the same digitally engineered technology and the same investments that we’ve made on the technology as well as the manufacturing to automate the process,” she said. 

One benefit of the digital payload, Parker added, is that users can electronically and simultaneously steer thousands of individual beams so communications can be assured in contested environments. The beam technology used in military satellites, she noted, is designed to prevent jamming and interference.

Parker said  Boeing is currently developing the eighth generation of its integrated payload array. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...