Lockheed Martin (LM), Ball Aerospace and Kratos Defense & Security Solutions were awarded a $7.2 million prototype agreement by the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit to develop a new multi-band, multi-mission (MBMM) phased array prototype, which is part of a broader initiative to modernize the existing Air Force Satellite Control Network to field new technology faster. MBMM will enable multiple satellites to simultaneously connect with a single array antenna at multiple frequencies — a significant performance improvement compared to traditional single contact parabolic dishes.

The Lockheed Martin team will build prototype electronically steerable transmit and receive arrays, initially supporting L- and S-Band frequencies. Each array will use Ball’s advanced phased array technologies and Kratos’ digital IF technology and cloud-enabled quantumRadio for signal processing.

The Lockheed Martin/Ball team is one of several teams building prototypes for the government, including Atlas Space Operations.

Future MBMM systems will add cyber resilience and reduce the long-term sustainment costs for the Air Force. MBMM may eventually support multiple orbits, from LEO to GEO, and support multiple missions simultaneously: command and control (C2), launch pad and ascent operations, radar and mission data transmission.

Comparing the costs of parabolic antennas to phased arrays concludes parabolic antennas have a lower upfront cost; however, they are much more expensive to maintain. Phased arrays avoid mechanical maintenance and keyhole effects, providing graceful degradation and electronic agility to match aperture performance to satellite constellation requirements.

“MBMM is a smarter way to quickly and affordably scale satellite transmission, while lowering long-term maintenance costs for the Air Force. Today, when a parabolic antenna goes down, it can take days to repair; with MBMM, it will take hours and won’t take the entire site offline — that’s a tremendous advantage.” — Maria Demaree, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Mission Solutions

“One electronically steered antenna can replace multiple dishes, enabling better performance, connectivity and affordability.” — Rob Freedman, vice president and general manager of tactical solutions at Ball Aerospace

“Software modems deployed in virtual machines gives MBMM an advantage, because it is easy to scale signal processing on a much faster timeline than previously.” — Frank Backes, senior vice president of Kratos Federal Space