The U.S. Space Force Space Systems Center awarded Space Micro a $3 million contract award for a laser communications terminal. Shown are Space Micro and Air Force officials signing a Small Business Innovation Research contract at Space Pitch Day in San Francisco in 2019. Credit: Space Micro

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center awarded satellite component supplier Space Micro a $3 million contract for a laser communications terminal designed to transmit data at a rate of 100 gigabits per second.

The award stems from Space Micro’s presentation at Air Force Space Pitch Day in November. During the event, the Air Force awarded $750,000 in Small Business Innovation Research contracts and invited firms to propose additional work. San Diego-based Space Micro and the Space and Missile Systems Center, now part of the U.S. Space Force, completed discussions in March that raised the value of the San Diego company’s award to $3 million.

Space Micro has completed qualification of its µLCT 100 Laser Communications Terminal but has not flown the device. It is scheduled to launch on a satellite later this year. Space Micro cannot name the customer, said Space Micro CEO David Strobel.

Demand for laser communications terminals is strong among commercial customers eager to rapidly transmit images or route communications to other satellites or the ground. Military customers also are enthusiastic about the technology because laser communications are more difficult to jam or intercept than radio frequency communications, Strobel said.

NASA missions have demonstrated laser communications, but terminals were expensive. Space Micro has reduced the cost of terminal by relying on parts, components and modules manufactured for terrestrial optical communications equipment, Strobel said.

Under the $3 million Space Force contract, Space Micro will deliver in late 2021 an engineering model of a laser communications terminal developed for commercial geostationary satellites.

Space Micro’s terminal is unique because of its high data rate, Strobel said. “It’s at least an order of magnitude higher data rate than terminal competitors are promising,” he added.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...