LITTLETON, Colo.—Lockheed Martin [LMT] later this year plans to launch the first two of three satellites that will form the company’s testbed in space to test and demonstrate advanced communications and data transport to enable joint military missions across all operational domains, a company official said on Monday.
The 5G.MIL testbed, which is being funded with the company’s internal research and development funds, is “kind of trying to think ahead of our customers, try out those concepts, prove that they work and be able to take those into real contracts,” Paul Koether, space director of the Joint All Domain Operations Division at Lockheed Martin, said during a media briefing held at the company’s Space segment facilities south of Denver.
The testbed is part of Lockheed Martin Chairman, President and CEO James Taiclet’s 21st Century Security strategy, which is essentially aimed at helping the Defense Department take advantage of commercial technologies such as 5G wireless communications that are on the eve of transforming the American way of life in a number of areas, such as the introduction of autonomous vehicles.
Koether said that the forthcoming testbed will allow the company to demonstrate actual technologies in space rather than rely on unmanned aircraft systems that are typically used to simulate satellites.
The first two satellites that are planned to be launched are CubeSats, which are about the size of a shoebox, and will carry passive radio frequency and other sensors. Koether described these as tactical satellites.
“This is going to test out mesh networking in space, distributed processing across multiple processors with sensors on the space vehicles, and comms, using low probability of intercept and low probability of detect,” he said.
Resiliency, defined by the low probability of intercept and detection, is a key feature of the capabilities to be tested, he said, highlighting the ongoing war in Ukraine, where Russian generals have inadvertently given away their positions when using their cell phones.
“We’re trying to do things in a way that allow our warfighters to hide in congested space,” he said.
Lockheed Martin is working with space launch provider
ABL Space Systems to launch the CubeSats on a flight later this year.
The third satellite, which will be built on a small satellite bus, will include an infrared sensor and 5G.MIL communications and onboard processing. This satellite will allow Lockheed Martin to “really test out the sensing and processing at the edge and then distributed that directly on non-terrestrial networks” to “prove out the concepts directly from sensor down to user of that information,” he said.
The third satellite will be launched in mid-2023.
All the satellites would operate in low earth orbit. Lockheed Martin began building the spacecraft in 2021.
Lockheed Martin is also working with commercial satellite providers to potentially take their sensor data and link it to ground-based 5G networks to be processed as part of the larger testbed and demonstrate these integrated capabilities to potential customers, Koether said.
The company is looking to use the testbed’s capabilities in military exercises or demonstrations, including Northern Edge or the Army’s Project Convergence joint all-domain command and control effort, he said.
Lockheed Martin is currently building satellites for the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) data transport layer, which will better connect existing and future satellites to get data to warfighters and decisionmakers more rapidly. The company is currently under contract for the Tranche 0 and Tranche 1 satellites of the transport layer and Koether said the lessons learned from the forthcoming testbed could inform capabilities that SDA may want to put on future tranches as the network is built out.