Illustrations of Boeing's WGS-11 with PTS payload (top) and Northrop Grumman's ESPA-HP bus.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force has narrowed down the competition for its next-generation anti-jamming communications satellites to aerospace giants Boeing and Northrop Grumman, according to a recent program update.

The Protected Tactical Satellite-Resilient (PTS-R) program aims to develop a constellation of satellites resistant to cyber attacks and jamming, ensuring U.S. forces can maintain secure communications in contested environments. 

Both companies won contracts in 2020 to develop PTS-R prototype payloads for on-orbit demonstrations planned for fiscal year 2025. Boeing’s payload will be hosted on the WGS-11 Wideband Global Satcom satellite the company is producing under a separate military contract.  Northrop Grumman designed a dedicated PTS-R satellite built on an ESPAStar-HP bus.

The Space Systems Command initially indicated the next phase of the PTS-R procurement would be an open competition, but in a notice published May 23 the command said new market research concluded that Boeing and Northrop Grumman are the only companies capable of meeting the program’s stringent requirements.

The Space Force is seeking $349 million for the PTS-R program in its fiscal year 2025 budget proposal. 

Next contract for ‘risk reduction’

As they prepare to launch their prototype payloads, Boeing and Northrop are competing for a follow-on cost-reimbursement contract expected to be awarded in December for “technology maturation and risk reduction,” with options for engineering, manufacturing, production and operations of two satellites, according to the notice.

The Space Force’s decision to limit the competition to Boeing and Northrop Grumman followed a “sources sought” request for information published in January 2023 aimed at gauging industry capabilities for the PTS-R program. “It is likely that award to any other sources would result in substantial duplication of cost to the government that is not expected to be recovered through further competition and unacceptable delays,” the notice said.

The selection of Boeing and Northrop Grumman doesn’t preclude future PTS-related opportunities for other companies. The Space Force is funding a separate procurement for the PTS-G (Global) program, a complementary constellation designed for broader communication coverage. The 2025 budget seeks $248 million for PTS-G.

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...