WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman, one of three companies selected to deliver 42 satellites for a U.S. military low Earth orbit constellation, announced June 14 it completed a ground demonstration of laser terminals that will be used to send and receive data in space.

For the demonstration, Northrop Grumman teamed with laser terminal manufacturer Mynaric and space avionics provider Innoflight. The companies tested high-rate encryption and decryption across an optical link.

Optical inter-satellite links are one of the key technologies required for the Transport Layer communications network to be built by the Space Development Agency. SDA in 2024 plans to start deploying the Transport Layer Tranche 1 — a mesh constellation of 126 satellites made by Lockheed Martin, York Space Systems and Northrop Grumman. 

“The demonstration validated compatibility between commercially developed laser communication and secure U.S. government encryption hardware,” said Blake Bullock, vice president of communication systems and strategic space systems at Northrop Grumman. 

Northrop Grumman selected Mynaric as a strategic supplier for laser communications, and Innoflight for encryption and other aspects of Northrop Grumman’s architecture.

For the demonstration, Mynaric provided the CONDOR Mk2 terminal. The company plans to introduce the more advanced Mk3 terminal for the Transport Layer Tranche 1 constellation. Innoflight used a so-called high-assurance internet protocol encryptor device for the demonstration. The company said the first space-qualified device of this kind is on track to receive U.S. government certification in 2022. 

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...