WASHINGTON — A satellite communication payload developed by Boeing for the U.S. Space Force has passed a critical design review, the company announced March 16.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman in 2020 won separate contracts worth $191 million and $253 million, respectively, to design payloads for the Protected Tactical Satcom (PTS) program, a planned network of jam-resistant geostationary satellites for military classified and unclassified communications. 

Both companies are expected to launch the prototype payloads in 2024 for on-orbit demonstrations.

Boeing said host vehicle integration and testing will begin next year.

Troy Dawson, Boeing’s vice president of government satellite systems, said the PTS prototype is a “scalable software-defined payload and can be hosted on commercial or government platforms.”

Justin Bruner, program manager for PTS at the Space Systems Command, said the specifics of the deployment and procurement timeline have not yet been finalized.

“The Space Force is considering a range of possible constellation deployments with various size, number, and functionality of individual satellites to meet the total PTS mission requirements,” Bruner said in a statement to SpaceNews. “PTS payloads are intended to be modular and scalable.”

He noted that the PTS is not intended to be a replacement for the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation but will be more focused on military users operating in contested areas where satellites are expected to be jammed. “PTS is one piece of U.S. Space Force’s future satcom architecture and offers advanced on-board protection features to mitigate jamming,” said Bruner. 

The two prototype PTS payloads now being built by Boeing and Northrop Grumman will operate in geosynchronous Earth orbit so they are compatible with military terminals with stationary antennas that point only to GEO satellites. However, the Space Force is continuing to study the use of other orbits, Bruner said. 

The U.S. Air Force started the PTS program in 2018 to develop secure satcom services for government agencies and military forces so they are less dependent on the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites, which are used for the most sensitive classified communications.

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...