Category Archives: Air Force

Next Strategic Tanker

Lockheed Martin introduces the LMXT as America’s next strategic tanker – built in America by Americans for Americans. Offered in response to the U.S. Air Force’s KC-Y Program, the LMXT represents the newest chapter in Lockheed Martin’s 60+ year history of producing and delivering tanker and cargo aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and multiple operators around the world.

LMXT
Lockheed Martin Offers the LMXT for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-Y Program

The LMXT complements the U.S. Air Force’s tanker capabilities by providing the most advanced aerial refueler to meet America’s immediate and long-term mission requirements. The LMXT strengthens and expands the U.S. aerospace industrial base by working with existing and new American suppliers. The LMXT also cultivates and sustains high-tech, high-skill American manufacturing jobs.

«Lockheed Martin has a long and successful track record of producing aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, and we understand the critical role tankers play in ensuring America’s total mission success», said Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. «The LMXT combines proven performance and operator-specific capabilities to meet the Air Force’s refueling requirements in support of America’s National Defense Strategy».

The LMXT offers a proven airframe with distinct U.S. Air Force-only capabilities designed to meet operator requirements, with advantages that include:

  • Significantly improved range and fuel offload capacity;
  • A proven fly-by-wire boom currently certified and used by allies to refuel U.S. Air Force receiver aircraft in operations around the world;
  • The world’s first fully automatic boom/air-to-air refueling (A3R) system;
  • Operational and combat proven advanced camera and vision system;
  • Open system architecture JADC2 systems;
  • A multi-domain operations node that connects the LMXT to the larger battlespace, increasing onboard situational awareness to provide resilient communications and datalink for assets across the force.

The Lockheed Martin strategic tanker builds on the combat-proven design of the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin works directly to implement U.S. Air Force-specific requirements within the LMXT. As the strategic tanker of choice for 13 nations, the MRTT has logged more than 250,000 flight hours refueling U.S. and allied fighter, transport and maritime patrol aircraft in combat theater environments.

Kazakh Atlas

The Republic of Kazakhstan has placed an order for two Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft and becomes the ninth operator together with Germany, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Malaysia and Luxembourg.

A400M Atlas
The Republic of Kazakhstan orders two Airbus A400Ms

With delivery of the first aircraft scheduled in 2024, the contract includes a complete suite of maintenance and training support. Together with the agreement a Memorandum of Understanding has also been signed to collaborate on Maintenance and Overhaul services and with a first step of creating a local Airbus C295 maintenance centre.

«The A400M Atlas will become the cornerstone of Kazakhstan’s tactical and strategic airlifting operations», said Michael Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. «This new export contract brings the total number of A400M Atlas orders to 176 aircraft, a figure that we expect to increase in the near future. With more than 100 aircraft delivered and 100,000 flight hours in operation, the A400M Atlas has proven its capabilities, reaching a state of maturity that many potential customers were waiting for».

With the capacity to accommodate the country’s inventory and conduct military, civil and humanitarian missions, the A400M Atlas will enable Kazakhstan to quickly respond to any mission by rapidly deploying game-changing capabilities over long distances and enabling effective access to remote areas.

 

Specifications

DIMENSIONS
Overall Length 45.10 m/148 feet
Overall Height 14.70 m/48 feet
Wing Span 42.40 m/139 feet
Cargo Hold Length (ramp excluded) 17.71 m/58 feet
Cargo Hold Height 3.85-4.00 m/12 feet 7 inch-13 feet
Cargo Hold Width 4.00 m/13 feet
Cargo Hold Volume 340 m3/12,000 feet3
WEIGHTS
Maximum Take Off Weight 141,000 kg/310,850 lbs
Maximum Landing Weight 123,000 kg/271,200 lbs
Internal Fuel Weight 50,500 kg/111,300 lbs
Maximum Payload 37,000 kg/81,600 lbs
ENGINE (×4)
EuroProp International TP400-D6 11,000 shp/8,200 kW
PERFORMANCE
Maximum Operating Altitude 12,200 m/40,000 feet
Maximum Cruise Speed (TAS) 300 knots/345 mph/555 km/h
Cruise Speed Range 0.68-0.72 M
RANGE
Range with Maximum Payload (37,000 kg/81,600 lbs) 1,780 NM/2,050 miles/3,300 km
Range with 30,000 kg/66,000 lbs Payload 2,450 NM/2,796 miles/4,500 km
Range with 20,000 kg/44,000 lbs Payload 3,450 NM/3,977 miles/6,400 km
Maximum Range (Ferry) 4,700 NM/5,406 miles/8,700 km

 

Rollout ceremony

Boeing, in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force and Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF), celebrated the naming and rollout of Qatar’s advanced F-15, the F-15QA Strike Eagle.

F-15QA Strike Eagle
Boeing Unveils F-15 Qatar Advanced Jets

«The rollout of the F-15QA Strike Eagle is momentous, not just in terms of capability but also in terms of the enhanced partnership it represents. The relationship the United States shares with Qatar is critical to the stability and security of the central command area of responsibility, and we are grateful for our coalition partner’s continued focus on building interoperability and combined readiness», said Lieutenant General Greg Guillot, commander of 9th Air Force. «It is a privilege and honor to stand with our Qatari counterparts this day and every day».

The first set of F-15QA Strike Eagle jets will ferry to Qatar later this year following the completion of pre-delivery pilot training.

«The Qatar F-15QA Strike Eagle program further enhanced next-generation technologies in the advanced F-15 such as the fly-by-wire flight controls, an all-glass digital cockpit and contemporary sensors, radar and electronic warfare capabilities», said Prat Kumar, vice president of the F-15 program. «Driven by digital engineering and advanced manufacturing, these aircraft represent a transformational leap for the F-15. The F-15QA Strike Eagle will enhance the superiority of the QEAF with more speed, range and payload than any fighter in the world».

Boeing has been providing maintenance and logistics support for the QEAF during pre-delivery pilot training, which began earlier this year. In addition, Boeing will establish and operate an aircrew and maintenance training center for the QEAF at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar through 2024 while also providing in-country spares and logistics support once aircraft are delivered.

«Boeing is proud to provide a holistic solution to our valued Qatari customer through tailored training and sustainment», said Torbjorn «Turbo» Sjogren, vice president of International Government & Defence for Boeing. «We look forward to our continued partnership with Qatar and further supporting their mission readiness needs».

Tanker for Japan

The first Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker built for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) recently refueled another KC-46A Pegasus aircraft in the skies over Washington state. The Japan-bound tanker also successfully received fuel in return.

KC-46 Pegasus
The Japan-bound tanker recently refueled another KC-46A Pegasus in the skies over Washington state (Kevin Flynn photo)

«Refueling with the first Japan KC-46A Pegasus is an important milestone for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force», said Jamie Burgess, KC-46 Pegasus program manager. «KC-46A Pegasus is the world’s most advanced air refueling aircraft and has already transferred more than 42 million gallons of fuel to other aircraft globally through its boom and drogue systems».

Japan is the KC-46 Pegasus program’s first non-U.S. customer and is scheduled to receive its first aircraft this year.

«State-of-the-art refueling makes the KC-46A Pegasus a standout, but this tanker goes well beyond that», said Will Shaffer, president of Boeing Japan. «The ability to carry cargo and passengers while maintaining tactical situational awareness makes the aircraft a critical tool in the security alliance between the U.S. and Japan».

The Japan KC-46A Pegasus is capable of refueling U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and JASDF aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a contract for the JASDF’s first KC-46A Pegasus tanker in December 2017. The agreement was completed through the Foreign Military Sale process between the U.S. government and Japan. A second Japan tanker is already in production.

Boeing is assembling the KC-46A Pegasus aircraft for both the U.S. Air Force and Japan on its 767 production line in Everett, Washington. Boeing’s Japanese partners produce 16% of the KC-46A Pegasus airframe structure.

 

General Characteristics

Primary Function Aerial refueling and airlift
Prime Contractor The Boeing Company
Power Plant 2 × Pratt & Whitney 4062
Thrust 62,000 lbs./275.790 kN/28,123 kgf – Thrust per High-Bypass engine (sea-level standard day)
Wingspan 157 feet, 8 inches/48.1 m
Length 165 feet, 6 inches/50.5 m
Height 52 feet, 10 inches/15.9 m
Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) 415,000 lbs./188,240 kg
Maximum Landing Weight 310,000 lbs./140,614 kg
Fuel Capacity 212,299 lbs./96,297 kg
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load 207,672 lbs./94,198 kg
Maximum Cargo Capacity 65,000 lbs./29,484 kg
Maximum Airspeed 360 KCAS (Knots Calibrated AirSpeed)/0.86 M/414 mph/667 km/h
Service Ceiling 43,100 feet/13,137 m
Maximum Distance 7,299 NM/8,400 miles/13,518 km
Pallet Positions 18 pallet positions
Air Crew 15 permanent seats for aircrew, including aeromedical evacuation aircrew
Passengers 58 total (normal operations); up to 114 total (contingency operations)
Aeromedical Evacuation 58 patients (24 litters/34 ambulatory) with the AE Patient Support Pallet configuration; 6 integral litters carried as part of normal aircraft configuration equipment

 

Quantum Laboratory

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is now designated as the Quantum Information Science (QIS) Research Center for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force.

QIS (Quantum Information Science)
Shown is a cryogenic refrigerator installed in the Quantum Information and Sciences Laboratory at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate in Rome, New York. The device is used by AFRL researchers to measure the energy and coherence times of superconducting quantum bits, known as qubits, two important characteristics that determine how long qubits can retain quantum information (Courtesy photo)

This designation, signed by then Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth in an April 23 memorandum, gives AFRL the authority to achieve faster military capability based on quantum information science, said AFRL commander Major General Heather Pringle.

«AFRL is extremely proud, and has been long-recognized at the national level for its deep technical expertise in QIS with far-ranging applications including clocks and sensors for quantum-enhanced positioning, navigation and timing, quantum communications and networks, and quantum computing», Pringle said. «This designation allows AFRL to expand its collaborations across government, industry and academia, further accelerating the research, development and deployment of quantum technologies».

To support these efforts, AFRL’s Information Directorate, located at Rome, New York, will receive fiscal year 2020 funds, granted under the Defense Quantum Information Science Research and Development Program and in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act. The funds help the Rome Lab obtain partnerships to gain further knowledge from worldwide leaders in quantum science application, said Doctor Michael Hayduk, Information Directorate deputy director.

«With this designation, AFRL fully intends to further advance the application of quantum technologies across the Department of the Air Force», Hayduk said. «AFRL will expand its global network of QIS collaborators by tapping into both industrial and university expertise. These partnerships are critical in not only accelerating the deployment of QIS technologies but also in developing the future workforce needed to meet emerging national security challenges».

Additional 13 Protector

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has exercised the clause in its contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) to manufacture and deliver 13 additional Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) that had previously been identified as options. The initial contract order was for three Protector RPAS, establishing 16 as the new total of Protectors to be delivered to the UK MoD.

Protector RG Mk1 RPAS
GA-ASI and UK MOD Exercise Contract for Additional 13 Protector RPAS

«Our fleet of 16 Protector aircraft equipped with ultra-modern technology will provide the Royal Air Force (RAF) with a vast global reach allowing us to monitor and protect the battlespace for hours on end. The Protector programme involves industry across the UK with vital parts of the aircraft manufactured on the Isle of Wight, supporting highly-skilled jobs for years to come», said Jeremy Quin, UK Minister for Defense Procurement.

GA-ASI’s MQ-9B SkyGuardian is the baseline system being configured for the RAF as the Protector RG Mk1. It includes X-band satellite communications (SATCOM) and support for UK weapon systems, as well as the aircraft’s onboard sensors such as its electro-optical sensor ball and Lynx Multi-mode Radar.

«This commitment for 13 additional unmanned aircraft confirms the long-term confidence of the UK MoD and the Royal Air Force in the MQ-9B system and the Protector program», said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. «The MQ-9B system will bring unparalleled reconnaissance capability to the RAF and help to ensure the security of the UK and its allies».

In July 2020, the UK MoD and GA-ASI announced a production contract for the first three Protector RPAS. In September 2020, GA-ASI announced the completion of the first Protector-configured MQ-9B, which is now supporting system testing as part of a combined UK MoD, U.S. Air Force and GA-ASI test team. Known as UK1, this first Protector will be delivered to the MoD later this year, but will remain in the U.S. to complete the Royal Air Force’s test and evaluation program before moving to its UK home base in 2022.

«The contract for the additional 13 Protector aircraft, taking the total to 16, is a major milestone for the UK. When Protector enters service in 2024, UK Defence will take an enormous jump forward in capability, giving us the ability to operate globally with this cutting edge, highly adaptable platform», said Air Commodore Richard Barrow, Senior Responsible Owner for the RAF Protector Programme.

The partnership between GA-ASI and the UK MoD also brings significant benefits to UK aerospace and defense industries. One example is GKN Aerospace, which is manufacturing the advanced composite V-tails for the MQ-9B at its centre of excellence in Cowes, the Isle of Wight.

GA-ASI’s development of MQ-9B began in 2014 as a company-funded program to deliver an RPA that meets the stringent NATO STANAG-4671 and UK DEFSTAN 00-970 aircraft system airworthiness requirements. These provide the basis for type certification by NATO member-state military airworthiness authorities. The MQ-9B is designed to accommodate the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS), which helps the aircraft integrate with the normal flow of aviation traffic and keeps operators in contact with air traffic control. The aircraft is built for adverse weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a de-icing system. MQ-9B features rapid integration of new payloads with nine hard points. The aircraft can self-deploy using SATCOM-enabled Automatic Takeoff and Landing, which eliminates forward-based launch-and-recovery equipment and personnel. In addition to the Protector and SkyGuardian configurations, MQ-9B is available as the SeaGuardian – with revolutionary anti-submarine and surface search capabilities – for maritime missions.

MQ-9B has garnered significant interest from customers throughout the world. In addition to the UK, SkyGuardian has been selected by the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003 and the Belgian Ministry of Defense signed a contract for SkyGuardian.

Norwegian Poseidon

The first P-8A Poseidon aircraft for Norway on July 9, 2021 rolled out of the paint shop in Renton, in Royal Norwegian Air Force livery. Norway is one of eight nations to have acquired the P-8A Poseidon as their new multimission maritime patrol aircraft.

P-8A Poseidon
Norway’s First P-8A Poseidon Rolls Out of the Paint Shop

Recently, the air force revealed the names of its five P-8A Poseidon aircraft: Vingtor, Viking, Ulabrand, Hugin and Munin. The names are inspired by Norse mythology and continue a tradition of almost 80 years that started when the names Vingtor, Viking and Ulabrand were used on Norway’s PBY-5 Catalina maritime patrol aircraft in 1942. Since then, other maritime patrol aircraft operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force have carried those names, including its current P-3 Orion fleet, which will be replaced by the P-8 Poseidon.

Norway’s first P-8A Poseidon aircraft – Vingtor – will now return to the factory floor to be prepared for flight testing. First flight is scheduled for later this month, and mission systems will be installed on the aircraft after that.

 

Technical Specifications

Wing Span 123.6 feet/37.64 m
Height 42.1 feet/12.83 m
Length 129.5 feet/39.47 m
Propulsion 2 × CFM56-7B engines
27,000 lbs./12,237 kgf/120 kN thrust
Speed 490 knots/564 mph/908 km/h
Range 1,200 NM/1,381 miles/2,222 km with 4 hours on station
Ceiling 41,000 feet/12,496 m
Crew 9
Maximum Take-Off Gross Weight 189,200 lbs./85,820 kg

 

B-21 Raider

The Air Force released a new B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic with an accompanying fact sheet on July 06, 2021. As with past renderings, this rendering is an artist’s interpretation of the B-21 Raider design.

B-21 Raider
Shown is a B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic. The rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base, California, as the backdrop. Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 Raider will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad (U.S. Air Force graphic)

The new rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, as the backdrop. The 420th Flight Test Squadron based at Edwards AFB will plan, test, analyze and report on all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider.

The B-21 Raider program continues to execute the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase and is focused on scaling the manufacturing infrastructure and capacity across the industrial supply base to prepare for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). A critical design review conducted in 2018 concluded the aircraft has a mature and stable design.

Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 Raider will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.

«Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 Raider is key to that plan», said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. «The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 Raider makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability».

The Air Force plans to incrementally replace the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit bombers to form a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s. The B-21 Raider program is on track to deliver B-21s to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s.

Autonomy Core System

As the Department of the Air Force (DAF) stands up Rocket Cargo, its recently announced fourth Vanguard program, the WARTECH incubator process that birthed Rocket Cargo continues onward with the upcoming WARTECH 2.0 Summit July 15-16, where more future Vanguards could be fresh in the making.

MQ-20 Avenger
A General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger unmanned vehicle returns to El Mirage Airfield, California. June 24, 2021. The MQ-20 successfully participated in Edwards Air Force Base’s Orange Flag 21-2 to test the Skyborg Autonomy Core System (Photo courtesy of General Atomics)

On June 15, a WARTECH pre-executive committee board finalized its recommendations concerning which advanced technology topic proposals should still receive consideration at the upcoming summit to be named a Vanguard. The pre-EXCOM, which represents O-6 level leadership and directly reports to an executive committee, received presentations on each topic June 8-9 and then conducted evaluations June 10-15.

Vanguards are premiere transformational Science & Technology 2030 initiatives with DAF commitment to deliver game-changing capabilities to meet warfighter requirements for future operations, said WARTECH Execution Lead, Jeff Palumbo. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (ARFL) Transformational Capabilities Office, the group appointed in Fall 2019 to implement the transformational warfighting component of the Air Force Science and Technology Strategy, introduced initiatives that included the selection of the first Vanguard programs: Golden Horde, Navigation Technology Satellite 3 (NTS-3) and Skyborg.

To help identify future Vanguards, WARTECH was launched within the TCO in partnership with the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability, U.S. Space Force Strategic Requirements (USSF/S5B) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition’s Science, Technology and Engineering Directorate (SAF/AQR) as part of a new initiative. WARTECH teams the warfighter with technologists to mature ideas into proposals for technological capabilities that meet these future force needs.

«By nature, WARTECH is a highly collaborative process that brings together the technical, operational, acquisition, and planning communities to make these challenging investment decisions», Palumbo said. «This collaboration not only builds enterprise commitment to achieve the intended capabilities sooner but informs other elements of capability development—where do we need more technical maturation, where do we need to experiment, where do we need closer integration across technical areas or mission domains? WARTECH is not the only process that helps answers these questions, but it’s bringing many talented people together across the DAF and DOD to discuss, debate, and move out».

The ongoing work in AFRL’s technology directorates provides a key source of technologies to form integrated capability solutions. The technical experts across AFRL provide the knowledge base that the TCO relies on to scope problems, leverage outside expertise, and provide technical solutions to the operational challenges, Palumbo said. The TCO designs, coordinates, executes, communicates, and collects feedback on the process.

To be considered in the WARTECH process, the topic must align to the National Defense Strategy and DAF priorities, must feasibly address mission requirements within transition timelines, must have concurrence that it provides a «leap ahead» in advancement or a significant cost imposition on adversaries and must include a potential transition path.

While there isn’t an open call for ideas or proposals at any point, the entry point for ideas is a Scoping phase, which involves the review of current and projected threats as well as current operation plan briefs to identify operational challenges, operational concepts that may address those challenges and technologies that can perform or integrate those operational concept solutions. At this point in the process, those are the key elements that make up a WARTECH topic. Any data calls for ideas are specifically targeted at the operational problem and the associated areas of uncertainty, Palumbo said.

In late April’s Curation Phase six topic teams presented the status of their proposals and received feedback from internal stakeholders, including the AFRL front office group, technology directors, chief scientists, the TCO and special guest, Doctor Victoria Coleman, Chief Scientist of the Air Force. In early May teams presented to enterprise stakeholders, including at the major command, combatant command, field command, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, program executive officer and Program Executive Offices (PEO) staff levels.

The Independent Advisory Board also provided continuous feedback and held final sessions with teams in late May, and teams incorporated feedback, updated presentations and continued to refine their proposals for the aforementioned early June reviews to the pre-EXCOM board. If a topic makes it through the pre-EXCOM board to be a Vanguard candidate, it will then go to the summit.

The annual summit, which was first held in summer 2020, includes participants from the operational community (Air Force Futures, U.S. Space Force Futures, major commands, combatant commands), the acquisition community (the Air Force technology executive officer; SAF/AQR; AFRL technology directorates; Air Force Life Cycle Management Center; and Space and Missile Systems Center). Topics are reviewed by a two-star level EXCOM board, which is a governing body represented by the Air Force Futures, USSF/S5B, SAF/AQR, AFRL and the U.S. Space Force’s Chief Technology Innovation Office.

The summit leads to a prioritized list of proposed programs that have the potential to be commissioned as DAF Vanguard programs by a four-star level Executive Leadership Team, which is chaired by the vice chief of staff of the Air Force. Decisions coming out of the ELT may take time to be announced within the Department and may take even longer to be publicly announced because truly transformational efforts have security sensitivities associated with them.

«However, not being selected as a Vanguard does not mean the operational challenge goes away or the S&T activities supporting the challenge ends», said Palumbo. «TCO is building a pipeline of transformational activities that continue to work toward the vision of the future force planners. I think of WARTECH as an overarching process that is targeted at identifying advanced technology demonstrations supporting the most challenging DAF needs. The most visible will be Vanguard programs, but the process will inform many parts of the enterprise in both transformational and foundational activities across budget categories. We may have WARTECH cycles where one or more Vanguards are selected. We may also have cycles where no topics are selected to be Vanguards but significant investments are made toward an initial curation phase. These investments will position the topic for follow-on prototyping and demonstration activities as an integrated capability addressing the original operational challenge».

Navigation Technology

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is excited to announce that the Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) satellite navigation program is closer in the development of the spacecraft for its in-space demonstration, thanks to the delivery of its bus that will carry it to space in 2023.

Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3)
The ESPAStar-D bus that will be integrated into the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Navigation Technology Satellite-3. The bus, which will serve as the body of spacecraft, was built at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Gilbert, Arizona. NTS-3 is scheduled for launch in 2023 (Courtesy photo/Northrop Grumman)

In 2019, the U.S. Air Force designated NTS-3 as one of three Vanguard programs, which are priority initiatives to deliver new, game-changing capabilities for national defense. The NTS-3 mission is to advance technologies to responsively mitigate interference to Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities, and increase system resiliency for the U.S. Space Force’s Global Positioning System military, civil and commercial users.

Northrop Grumman Corporation recently delivered an ESPAStar-D spacecraft bus to L3Harris Technologies of Palm Bay, Florida in support of the NTS-3 mission scheduled to launch to geosynchronous orbit from Cape Canaveral in 2023.

The AFRL Transformational Capabilities Office at Wright-Patterson AFB and Space Vehicles Directorate, located at Kirtland Air Force Base (AFB) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are in partnership with the two industry companies for the bus development and integration.

«This is the first time an ESPAStar bus has been built and delivered as a commercially-available commodity», said Arlen Biersgreen, the NTS-3 program manager. «NTS-3 is using a unique acquisition model for the ESPAStar line that fully exercises the commercial nature of Northrop Grumman’s product line, in order to provide the bus to another defense contractor for payload integration using standard interfaces».

The ESPAStar-D bus, built in Northrop Grumman’s satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Arizona, includes critical subsystems such as communications, power, attitude determination and control, in addition to configurable structures to mount payloads.

A June 2021 press release from Northrop Grumman explains the company built the ESPAStar-D bus «to provide affordable, rapid access to space», and that its configuration, using an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA), allows multiple separate experimental payloads to be stacked together on one launch vehicle.

It should be noted that AFRL developed the ESPA ring – a technology that revolutionized the transport of space experiments, allowing for lower-cost and more frequent «rides» to space, for government and industry users.

«The transfer of the bus allows L3Harris to move forward building the NTS-3 spacecraft», said 2nd Lt. Charles Schramka, the program’s deputy principal investigator. «L3Harris will perform tests and begin integrating the NTS-3 PNT payload onto the bus. Together the bus and payload will form the NTS-3 spacecraft».

Following L3Harris’s work, AFRL will test the bus with the NTS-3 ground control and user equipment segments, and will perform its own integrated testing on the overall NTS-3 system architecture.

Besides the bus delivery, there are other advances in the program.

Schramka said, «This month we took delivery of an experimental receiver known as Global Navigation Satellite System Test Architecture (GNSSTA), developed by our sister AFRL unit, the Sensors Directorate at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio and Mitre Corporation. GNSSTA is a reprogrammable software defined signal receiver that allows us to receive the legacy GPS and advanced signals generated by NTS-3».

AFRL will continue its integration efforts through 2022 to ensure all parts are working together for the fall of 2023 NTS-3 launch.

«With the delivery of the bus we are entering into the next phase of payload integration», Biersgreen said. «These recent breakthroughs allow the program to continue to move forward and prepare for launch of the first U.S. integrated satellite navigation experiment in over 45 years».