WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman was awarded a $253.5 million contract by the U.S. Space Force to develop a cyber-secure communications payload that could be deployed on a military or commercial satellite.

The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center announced Feb. 12 that Northrop Grumman was the first vendor selected to build a prototype payload under the Protected Tactical Satellite Communications (PTS) program that the U.S. Air Force started in 2018.

As many as four prototype payloads will be funded under the PTS program. Two payloads will be selected to launch in 2024 for on-orbit demonstrations that will last three to five years.

The PTS payloads will be deployed on satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit so they are compatible with military satcom terminals with stationary antennas that point only to GEO satellites.

PTS was created to provide secure satcom to government agencies and military forces so they are less dependent on the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites for classified-level communications.

PTS is intended for tactical users and operators, as well as international allies. DoD wants the AEHF constellation to be preserved for strategic operations like nuclear command and control.

Northrop Grumman is a longtime supplier of classified communications payloads for the U.S. military and developed the AEHF payloads under contract to Lockheed Martin, the AEHF prime contractor.

PTS is the space-based portion of a larger program called Protected Anti-jam Tactical Satcom (PATS) that also has a ground-based component.

Col. Dennis Bythewood, program executive officer for SMC’s Development Corps, said Northrop Grumman was selected through the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC) so-called “other transaction” agreement that was created to accelerate the development and prototyping of space systems.

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...