Lockheed Martin, Ball, and Kratos team up to create prototype phased array for USAF

Bethesda, MD-based Lockheed Martin, Boulder, CO-based Ball Aerospace, and San Diego, CA-based Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. were awarded a $7.2 million prototype agreement by the Defense Innovation Unit to develop a new Multi-Band, Multi-Mission (MBMM) prototype phased array as part of a broader initiative to modernize the existing Air Force Satellite Control Network and bring new technology faster to warfighters, Lockheed Martin announced July 17. MBMM enables multiple satellites to simultaneously connect with a single array antenna over multiple frequencies, a significant performance improvement compared to traditional single contact parabolic dishes.

 The Lockheed Martin team is building prototype transmit and receive electronically steerable arrays (ESA). Each array uses Ball’s advanced phased array technologies and supports L- and S-band frequencies initially. Signal processing is accomplished with Kratos’ digital intermediate frequency (IF) technology and cloud-enabled quantumRadio.

 “MBMM is a smarter way to quickly and affordably scale satellite transmission while lowering long-term maintenance costs for the Air Force,” said Maria Demaree, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Mission Solutions. “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.”

 Extensive industry research comparing the costs of parabolic antennas to phased arrays over time show that while parabolic antennas have a lower upfront cost, they become much more expensive to maintain. Phased arrays avoid the mechanical maintenance and keyhole effects of parabolic antennas while providing graceful degradation and electronic agility in matching aperture performance to constellation demands.

“One electronically steered antenna can replace multiple dishes, enabling better performance, connectivity and affordability,” said Rob Freedman, vice president and general manager, Tactical Solutions, 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,” said Frank Backes, senior vice president of Kratos Federal Space.

 Future operational MBMM systems will offer new cyber resilience while reducing long-term sustainment costs for the Air Force. MBMM may eventually support multiple orbits from LEO to GEO and can perform multiple missions at the same time, including command & control (C2), launch pad and ascent operations, radar and mission data transmission. The Lockheed Martin/Ball team is one of several teams building prototypes for the government.