WASHINGTON — The Space Force awarded a $10 million contract to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab to evaluate the software and cybersecurity of ground systems being developed for a new classified satellite network.

According to a Sept. 26 announcement, Johns Hopkins University’s APL will assess the ground systems of the Evolved Strategic Satcom (ESS) satellites that are being developed for nuclear command control and communications.

The ESS space and ground segments are a classified architecture to be used by the national command authority — the chain of command running from the president through the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the U.S. Strategic Command — in the event of a nuclear war.

The ESS ground segment was named Griffon — short for Ground Resilient Integration and Framework for Operational Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications.

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon each won a $30 million contract to develop Griffon prototypes. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are developing competing satellite designs. 

Johns Hopkins University’s APL is the nation’s largest university-affiliated research center. 

Software and cyber ‘best practices’

The contract with JHU/APL will help to “ensure that software and cyber best practices are utilized throughout the prototyping and demonstration phases,” the Space Systems Command said in a statement. 

JHU/APL will serve as the “government partner for independent software testing.”

The Defense Department plans to spend $6.5 billion on the ESS program over the next five years. The ESS satellites are intended to augment and eventually replace the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) network of nuclear-hardened geostationary satellites made by Lockheed Martin. 

“Partnering with JHU/APL allows our program to have a test bed for the ESS prototypes and a pseudo production environment for analyzing agile software drops,” said Lt. Col. Laila Barasha, materiel leader for ESS ground. 

Due to the classified nature of the ESS program, the development of the Griffon software is more complex than in other satellite programs, said Barasha. “APL brings the expertise we need to ensure our nation’s nuclear command, control and communications capabilities are developed correctly from the start.”

“We are excited to bring JHU/APL space operations and software systems expertise to Space Systems Command,” said Michael Kim, program manager at APL. 

Lockheed Martin’s Griffon team includes Stratagem, Integrity-Communications-Solutions, Infinity and BAE Systems.

Raytheon’s team includes Dell, Seed Innovations, Infinity, Kratos, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Communications, Parsons, Polaris Alpha, Quantum Research, Koverse, Caliola Engineering, Kythera, Northstrat Inc., Optimal, RKF Engineering and Ascension Engineering. 

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...