Roccor completes key tests of Link 16 satellite antenna

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SAN FRANCISCO – Roccor has completed radio frequency testing of the antenna scheduled for launch later this year on the satellite housing Viasat’s Link 16 military communications terminal.

The firm known for deployable spacecraft structures, is working with BluFlux, an antenna technology specialist,  to complete environmental testing of the helical L-band antenna for XVI, an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) program to demonstrate communications relay with a Link 16 terminal on a small satellite.

U.S. military and NATO allies share information through Link 16 terminals mounted on aircraft, ships and ground vehicles. Viasat won an AFRL contract last year to mount a Link 16 terminal on a small satellite. Viasat then selected Blue Canyon Technologies to manufacture the 12-unit XVI cubesat and Roccor to supply the antenna.

Since the XVI satellite does not offer much room for a deployment mechanism, Roccor worked with BluFlux, both of Louisville, Colorado, to develop and test a two-meter-long helical antenna that stows inside the volume of a two-unit cubesat and extends on-orbit thanks to a slit-tube composite boom.

Roccor developed the antenna boom under a 2017 AFRL Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract. Since then, customers have deployed Roccor’s carbon-fiber booms successfully on three satellites, including HSat1, Harris Corp.’s first smallsat, said Bruce Davis, Roccor director of space antenna and deorbit products.

Roccor and BluFlux faced an array of challenges in developing and testing an antenna large enough to communicate in a range of frequencies with terrestrial receivers.

“What it came down to was a fast turnaround time to develop a challenging deployable antenna structure,” Davis told SpaceNews.

Testing was another hurdle. The antenna is both large and delicate.

BluFlux found a commercial facility where the antenna can remain upright during tests of the deployment mechanism and antenna performance, said Ben Wilmhoff, BluFlux president and founder.

Roccor plans to continue evolving its Link 16 antenna design to create a production-ready model under a $3 million SBIR contract awarded after Air Force Space Pitch Day in November.