This is an artist's rendering of a Blue Canyon Technologies satellite equipped with Viasat's Link 16 communications terminal. Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies

SAN FRANCISCO – Viasat selected Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) to design and manufacture a cubesat for a U.S. Air Force test of a military communications terminal in low Earth orbit.

BCT announced plans Aug. 19 to build a 12-unit cubesat bus equipped with Viasat’s Link 16 terminal to launch in 2020. U.S. military and NATO allies rely on Link 16, an encrypted radio frequency, to relay information in a line-of-sight from aircraft, ships and ground vehicles. If Link 16 terminals work on small satellites, they could relay military communications beyond a vehicle’s line-of-sight.

“Blue Canyon Technologies is honored to participate in this important pilot project,” George Stafford, BCT CEO and president, said in a statement. “To date, Link 16 technology has only been capable of line-of-sight communications. By demonstrating that Link 16 can operate in a space environment on small satellites, the U.S. military can gain beyond-line-of-sight tactical advantages on the battlefield and ultimately keep our troops safer.”

In May, the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles directorate awarded Viasat a $10 million contract to test whether a Link 16 terminal on a small satellite could serve as a communications network relay, in a program called XVI. BCT declined to comment on the value of its Link 16 contract with Viasat.

“Viasat is thrilled to have Blue Canyon Technologies supporting the XVI program,” Ken Peterman, Viasat Government Systems president, said in a statement. “This Link 16-capable low Earth orbit spacecraft will address the Department of Defense’s urgent need for a fast-to-market, cost-effective, space-based Link 16 solution to maintain the technological edge needed in contested environments.”

BCT, a rapidly growing satellite manufacturer in Boulder, Colorado, is building more than 60 spacecraft for government, commercial and academic customers. For the Link 16 mission, BCT will supply one of the firm’s XB1 spacecraft buses that comes equipped with subsystems including power, propulsion, flight control software, radio frequency communications, attitude control, and guidance, navigation and control.

BCT is currently building more than 60 spacecraft for government, commercial and academic missions. The company has doubled in size over the past 12 months and plans to open its new 80,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility in 2020.

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...