The U.S. Space Force and Northrop Grumman [NOC] finished a delta Critical Design Review (dCDR) for the Enhanced Polar System Recapitalization (EPS-R) Control and Planning Segment (CAPS) program, which is to improve military satellite communications in the region of the North Pole, the company said on Aug. 4.

Northrop Grumman said that the review met all exit criteria and that the program is to move to the development, integration, and test phase.

The announcement of the review’s completion comes on the heels of the Air Force’s release of a 14-page Arctic strategy, accompanied by a classified annex and co-signed by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, U.S. Space Force chief of space operations Gen. John Raymond, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. (Defense Daily, July 21).

CAPS is the ground segment providing command and control, and mission planning for all four of the EPS/EPS-R payloads with a single software baseline.

In addition to the ground segment, EPS-R is to include two eXtended Data Rate (XDR) payloads developed by Northrop Grumman, which will serve to provide coverage in the region until the Protected Tactical SATCOM and Evolved Strategic SATCOM polar variants become operational in the 2030s, according to the company.

Raymond said that the U.S. Space Force is striving to collaborate more with Arctic nation allies, including Canada and Norway, which is to launch the two satellites with the EPS-R payloads.

“With the changing strategic environment in the Arctic and more operations occurring in the Arctic, you then have to put satellites in purpose-built orbits to provide coverage over that part of the poles,” Raymond said. “Over the past year, we’ve developed a partnership with Norway, and we have a requirement to put two communications satellites in an orbit that would help cover the Arctic region. Norway was going to launch two satellites already so rather than build our own satellites, we took communications payloads and are going to integrate those on the Norwegian satellites. That will save significant costs for the United States, allow us to get capabilities onto orbit quicker, and allows us to deepen an already strong partnership with Norway.”

In 2018, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $428.8 million contract for the two EPS-R payloads.

“The Arctic’s capacity as a strategic buffer is eroding, making it an avenue of threat to the homeland, due to advancements by great power competitors,” per the strategy. “Additionally, it hosts critical launch points for global power projection and increasingly accessible natural resources. While the DoD analyzes the immediate prospect of conflict in the Arctic as low, the confluence of activities in the region by great power competitors with increased physical access due to receding land ice and sea ice, yields the potential for intensified regional competition as well as opportunities for cooperative endeavors with allies and partners.”