WASHINGTON — The Space Systems Command (SSC) announced it has awarded contracts to four companies to develop prototypes for laser communication terminals, kicking off the first phase of a $100 million program dubbed Enterprise Space Terminal.

Blue Origin, CACI International, General Atomics, and Viasat will compete to design and prototype optical communications terminals for use in space. These terminals essentially function like high-powered modems, using lasers to transmit and receive data over vast distances at the speed of light.

The goal of the Enterprise Space Terminal project, overseen by SSC’s Space Domain Awareness and Combat Power Program Executive Office, is to establish a  space mesh network across various orbits — from low Earth orbit to beyond geosynchronous. The project seeks to ensure compatibility between future military space systems, enabling seamless communication regardless of location.

‘Diverse communications paths’

“The Enterprise Space Terminal prototypes will be a huge step forward for a future space mesh network,” John Kirkemo, senior materiel leader of SSC’s Advanced Communications Acquisition Delta, said June 17 in a news release. These terminals will implement a common language so all satellites can talk to each other, he said. “This creates a robust network that offers diverse communication paths for critical national security data.”

The four companies were competitively selected by the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC), an organization established by the Department of Defense to attract non-traditional defense contractors, specifically startups and commercial firms. The chosen companies will be evaluated on the size, weight, power consumption, and cost-effectiveness of their laser communication terminal prototypes.

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...