WASHINGTON — The next launch by Firefly Aerospace, scheduled for December, will be an electronically steerable antenna payload designed by Lockheed Martin for a technology demonstration.

Lockheed Martin in June announced it awarded Firefly a contract to launch a small satellite. The company on Nov. 27 disclosed it is launching a spacecraft of just under 300 pounds carrying a newly designed electronically steerable antenna. The payload was integrated on a Terran Orbital Nebula bus.

Electronically steered antennas do not have moving parts and can generate multiple beams simultaneously. They are in growing demand for broadband communications applications such as in-flight satellite connectivity. Using digital beam-forming technology, electronic antennas allow satellites to steer communication beams to focus bandwidth on high-traffic areas. 

Lockheed Martin plans to demonstrate it can calibrate and turn on the antenna faster than it has  been possible before, said Paul Pelley, senior director of global security at Lockheed Martin Space.

“This payload was specifically designed for mission speed in space applications,” Pelley said. “The goal is to launch this payload into orbit and prove that we can calibrate it and make it operational faster than previous sensors. The satellite also is highly producible, meaning we can make them quicker with commercially available technology.”

More demonstrations planned

The December mission is one of several space technology demonstrations that Lockheed Martin is funding with internal resources to “showcase new, mature technology and to reaffirm we’re partners in the government’s missions,” Pelley said.

“What we hear from our customers is they need mission speed,” he added. “We believe our space-focused electronically steerable antennas are flexible, powerful sensors, which satisfy the need for increased operational tempo.”

Other space experiments Lockheed Martin plans to launch include Pony Express 2, to demonstrate mesh networking across satellites, and the Tactical Satellite, which will demonstrate on-orbit processing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. 

The company in November 2022 launched and tested two cubesats in geostationary orbit to demonstrate in-orbit servicing technologies. 

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...