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Northrop hopes for satellite bid

first_imgBoth teams are heavy-hitters in the industry. At Northrop’s Redondo Beach-based Space Technology sector, which used to be part of TRW Inc., executives said they expect their legacy of developing earlier military satellite communications systems will give them an advantage in the contract competition that could be worth more than $10 billion. “TRW was positioned, and we still are (as Northrop) a place the government went when they had a really hard problem,” Stuart Linsky, Northrop’s vice president and program manager of the TSAT program, said before a tour of the company’s TSAT lab. The Northrop tour came about a month after Boeing opened its TSAT lab in El Segundo to the media to promote what it sees as its competitive advantage. When Lockheed and then-TRW teamed to develop Milstar I, a predecessor of TSAT that also could withstand nuclear blasts in the atmosphere, the innovative hump that had to be overcome was “huge,” Linsky said. The first Milstar I satellite was launched in 1994. “That was a tough nut to crack, but eventually we cracked it,” Linsky said. “Milstar I was over schedule and over cost. ? This was a national imperative to be able to communicate through a nuclear conflict.” A few years later, TRW and Lockheed developed a more advanced satellite version known as Milstar II with 10 times the communications capacity of Milstar I. In addition to greater speed, Milstar II had the further innovation of a nulling antenna that nullifies enemy jamming attempts. Milstar II’s innovative nut cracked much easier. Milstar II was under budget and easier to develop because 55 percent of the new satellite was proven in Milstar I, Linsky said. “For Milstar II, a lot of stuff came from Milstar I,” Linsky said. In February 2007, Northrop delivered a military communications satellite payload to Lockheed that will communicate 100 times faster than Milstar I. The first launch of this satellite, part of a constellation known as Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or Advanced EHF, is scheduled for April 2008. The main innovation of Advanced EHF is a phased array, an antenna that can efficiently point its beam in different directions without mechanical movements. Northrop delivered the Advanced EHF payload ahead of schedule in part because the company was able to reuse 20 percent of Milstar II’s technologies, Linsky said. TSAT’s main innovation is a laser that sends signals between satellites and, in some cases, between satellites and such assets as reconnaissance aircraft. “With TSAT, we will be able to reuse 40 percent of Advanced EHF and will get 1,000 times Milstar I’s communications speed,” Linsky said. “We built the payload of Milstar. ? That leads to Advanced EHF and hopefully TSAT, if we’re selected.” The Air Force declined to comment for this article. But in an article in Air Force Print News from Sept. 21, Air Force spokesman Joe Davidson praised the potential of TSAT. “From the soldier on the ground to the commanders and planners of wartime operations at an operating headquarters, all will have the increased capabilities and real- time availability of information that provides for better situational awareness,” Davidson wrote. With respect to innovation, the hard part is over, said Len Kwiatkowski, vice president and general manager of military space programs at Lockheed’s Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale. “Innovation as invention and new technologies, from my viewpoint, that’s behind us,” Kwiatkowski said. “We’ve already gone through a multiyear, $500 million development program to develop and prove the technologies.” If the Lockheed-Northrop team wins, the remaining innovations will involve final design, integration of the technologies and space qualification, Kwiatkowski said. Lockheed’s version of the TSAT is based on the Lockheed A2100 satellite, 33 of which already have been launched successfully into orbit. From Milstar I to Milstar II to Advanced EHF and now TSAT, Northrop has teamed with Lockheed. That close relationship is another plus for the team’s prospects of winning the TSAT contract, Kwiatkowski said. In fact, the former No. 2 executive at Northrop’s Redondo Beach facility, Joanne Maguire, now serves as executive vice president of Lockheed’s Space Systems Co. “We have been partnered together with Northrop Grumman since ’82,” Kwiatkowski said. “In the aerospace business, we have had a very unique and very close relationship with each other in this particular arena to the point where people are working in our building today, and we don’t know who’s working with which company. We’re all wearing the same clothes.” muhammed.el-hasan@dailybreeze.com160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Northrop Grumman Corp. hopes the technological innovations in its lab will propel the nation’s military to a new level of satellite communications. The U.S. Air Force will possibly announce by December whether a team led by Lockheed Martin Corp., with Northrop as its main partner, or another group led by Boeing Co. will develop a new satellite constellation expected to transform military communications. Known as the Transformational Satellite Communications program, or TSAT, the constellation would make sending signals faster, more dynamic and less vulnerable to enemy-jamming or even nuclear explosions. If the Lockheed team wins, Northrop would develop the TSAT communications payload while Lockheed would build the satellite vehicle and integrate the entire project. MILITARY: The new system would make communication faster and less vulnerable. By Muhammed El-Hasan STAFF WRITER In a Manhattan Beach lab, octagonal antennas, invisible lasers and racks of computers simulate data-rich signals bouncing between a hypothetical network of satellites in orbit, military commanders and troops in battle. last_img read more