Missile Defense Agency and VOX Space engineers integrate the cubesat networked communications experiment at the company’s integration facility in Long Beach, Calif., in preparation for launch June 30, 2021. Credit: VOX Space

WASHINGTON — Two Missile Defense Agency cubesats launched June 30 aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne successfully began communicating with ground stations last week, the agency announced July 12.

The satellites are the first of a series of network communications experiments planned by MDA to demonstrate mesh networking in space and satellite-to-ground links. The cubesats will mimic two suborbital missile interceptor vehicles and test communications between them.

“Transmitting data between interceptors, sensors and communication systems is critical to a missile defense architecture that must quickly identify, track and destroy incoming enemy missiles before they reach their targets,” MDA said in a news release. 

MDA is developing a hypersonic and ballistic sensor payload to detect and track missile threats. 

“The missile defense architecture will require communications between interceptors, sensors and command and control systems to quickly identify, track and destroy incoming enemy missiles before they reach their targets. The cubesats will allow the agency to demonstrate the capabilities quickly and affordably,” said Walt Chai, MDA director for space sensors.

MDA’s cubesats were two of seven government and commercial payloads launched June 30 in Virgin Orbit’s second operational mission.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is air-launched from a Boeing 747 aircraft.

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...