HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — SpaceLink signed an agreement with the U.S. Army to explore ways to use the company’s data-relay constellation to deliver commercial satellite imagery directly to troops on the ground. 

The company on Aug. 8 announced a five-year agreement with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. 

Under the CRADA, short for cooperative research and development agreement, SpaceLink will share proprietary information about its system and in exchange will get insights on the Army’s concepts of operations and specific needs. 

Founded in 2020, SpaceLink is a U.S.-based subsidiary of Electro Optic Systems Holdings, an Australian  company.

The company in 2024 plans to start deploying a satellite relay network of four satellites about 8,700 miles above Earth. 

Due to its location in medium Earth orbit, the network will have continuous line of sight to satellites in lower and higher orbits, as well as high-altitude airborne platforms, the company said. The relay satellites will have both optical and radio-frequency communications links.

Anthony Colucci, SpaceLink’s chief strategy and commercial officer, said the plan is to use models and simulations to show  the Army how government systems would connect with the relay network.

A MEO network would expedite the flow of data to users, he said. “Today communicating with LEO satellites can only occur when they’re over a ground station. We’re able to see all LEO’s all the time so we can communicate instantaneously.”

The company is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. Its satellite ground stations will be located in the Mojave desert area in the Southwest and in Hawaii. SpaceLink said it’s also considering adding gateways in Australia and Europe. 

SpaceLink vice president of intelligence James Schwenke told SpaceNews the Army is looking to address a long-standing problem: how to quickly deliver commercial satellite imagery to troops in the field.

Army leaders have argued that U.S. intelligence agencies that collect satellite imagery are not able to meet urgent demand for data in the field. Another problem with images from national satellites is that they are classified and cannot be shared with allies. 

Ground forces today rely on overhead drones for surveillance and to locate targets but the U.S. military now has to prepare for possible armed conflicts against technologically advanced enemies like China that would have air defenses and shoot down U.S. drones. 

“For that reason all the services are looking at space as vital to their needs,” Schwenke said. “How can we get into these denied areas? So that’s the reason for a CRADA. To figure out how we can support their needs and how they’re going to execute it.”

The Army’s agreement with SpaceLink follows other CRADAs the service signed with commercial remote sensing satellite operators such as Iceye and Capella Space. The Army also inked a deal with BlackSky to directly operate and task one of the company’s imaging satellites.

“They’re trying to see how these commercial assets can really support them,” said Schwenke. “And we’re the comms transport layer. The Army is going to see how all this stuff works together.”

SpaceLink estimates that about two thirds of the data it will carry on its network will end up in U.S. government hands, said Colucci. “We anticipate that once we’re in service, we will have contracts with the National Reconnaissance Office, the Space Force, the Army and others to bring them data.”

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...