COLORADO SPRINGS — The U.S. Space Force in 2025 plans to start replacing decades-old parabolic satellite dishes with electronic phased array antennas developed by BlueHalo.
The company’s CEO Jonathan Moneymaker said the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) is the first customer for a new phased array antenna the company developed for the military and commercial markets.
Based in Arlington, Virginia, BlueHalo last year won a $1.4 billion contract from the RCO to update 12 military ground stations with modern systems. The company, founded in 2019, specializes in space-based communications, directed energy and missile defense technologies.
The Space RCO, a procurement agency under the Space Force, selected the antenna for the Satellite Communications Augmentation Resource program, or SCAR. This is an eight-year program to modernize the Satellite Control Network (SCN) of ground terminals that track U.S. military and intelligence satellites in geostationary Earth orbit.
Moneymaker said the mobile electronically steered antenna, called Badger, is now in development and will be manufactured at a new facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
BlueHalo’s main subcontractor for the SCAR program is Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, which is providing a software-based ground control system called OpenSpace.
The SCAR contract is a so-called Other Transaction Authority agreement where the government and the contractor agree to co-invest in a new technology. The Badger product uses a proprietary multi-band software defined antenna technology.
Decades-old ground stations
The military’s satellite control network has 19 parabolic antennas at seven locations around the world. The technology is outdated and more capacity is needed to keep with the growing number of satellites, a recent Government Accountability Office report noted.
The existing antennas can only track one satellite at a time. Moneymaker said the Badger antenna will be able to maintain simultaneous contact with up to 20 satellites.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, head of the Space Operations Command that operates these ground stations, called the SCN a “venerable network that’s been around for decades and is doing fantastic work for us today.”
But he said he agreed with the GAO’s findings that more work is needed to sustain the aging ground stations, Whiting told reporters April 19 at the Space Symposium.
Whiting pointed out that about half of the military’s geostationary satellites have their own dedicated ground stations and antennas, so not all national security satellites are dependent on the SCN. “There’s a plethora of various antenna capabilities that we can use,” he said.
He said the Space Force is watching the SCAR program and looks forward to the new phased array antennas.