WASHINGTON — SpaceLink announced Aug. 22 it will work with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop protocols for how commercial communications constellations will connect with defense and military systems. 

DARPA earlier this month kicked off a new project called Space BACN (space-based adaptive communications node) to develop low-cost optical links to connect commercial and government constellations. The agency wants to create an internet of low Earth orbit satellites that enables seamless communication between military, civil and private-sector satellite networks that currently are not interoperable.

SpaceLink, a company building a data-relay constellation of satellites in medium Earth orbit connected by laser links, is one of 11 organizations selected for the first phase of the Space BACN project. 

SpaceLink is partnering with Parsons Corp. It will use Parsons’ satellite scheduling and tasking software Optimyz, a tool that DARPA also selected to control its own Blackjack satellites

For DARPA’s laser communications project, SpaceLink will develop a technical approach and interfaces to “enable space-to-space optical communications terminals that can be dynamically modified on orbit and talk across various optical standards used by satellite systems,” said David Nemeth, the company’s senior vice president of systems engineering.

One of the concepts that will be explored is the use of SpaceLink’s network in medium orbit — about 8,700 miles above Earth — to route data from commercial Earth observation satellites to military users on the ground, said Nemeth.  The company in 2024 plans to start deploying a relay network of four satellites. 

SpaceLink’s vice president of intelligence James Schwenke said a key challenge in the DARPA project is to develop a user-friendly API, an application programming interface that would allow commercial networks such as Starlink, Amazon Kuiper, Telesat and Viasat to communicate and tie into the DoD infrastructure, including the Space Development Agency’s own Transport Layer.

Schwenke said a DARPA-led study team is working with the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the Space Development Agency and other organizations “to see how all these communities are going to get together.”

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...