Loft Federal and Microsoft [MSFT] will join 

Ball Aerospace [BLL] to work on its Space Development Agency (SDA) contract for the experimental testbed NExT for 10 satellites.

SDA awarded Ball Aerospace the NExT contract in October 2022 to build 10 satellites and accompanying ground systems to serve as the experimental testbed of the SDA’s constellation. The contract is worth up to $176 million and the satellites are set to fly beginning in 2024.

Ball Aerospace announced April 11 Loft Federal, the government subsidiary of Loft Orbital, will perform spacecraft integration and testing, procure commercial launch services, oversee the launch campaign, and operate the constellation on orbit.

The constellation will use Loft’s turnkey satellite platform, Longbow, based on the OneWeb satellite bus built by Airbus OneWeb satellites. Loft Orbital pre-orders these buses for customer missions and recently placed an order for 15 buses. It will also use Loft’s automated mission and satellite operations software Cockpit.

“Loft Federal is adapting our commercially-proven space infrastructure to support our national security space customer base,” said John Eterno, general manager of Loft Federal. “Leveraging Loft Orbital’s COTS [commercial off the shelf] products allows us to provide SDA with a fast and proven path to orbit in line with the commercial market’s expectations.”

Microsoft will provide Azure Orbital Ground Station services and Azure Government to give the SDA a secure cloud environment. This is the first time the SDA and U.S. Space Force will securely operate a government owned satellite constellation with Azure Orbital Ground Station’s global network.

“Our Azure Government cloud will enable SDA to extract spaceborne data insights from the cloud to the ultimate edge and to scale innovation faster and better meet the critical needs of the Guardians and strengthen national security,” commented Stephen Kitay, senior director of Azure Space at Microsoft.

The NExT testbed is not part of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA) Tranche architecture, but will demonstrate low-latency data transport and beyond line-of-sight command and control. NExT will experiment with the infrastructure established by the Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) to field and connect additional space vehicles with different mission payload configurations.