The Administrator of the Space Enterprise Consortium has awarded a contract to ViaSat to deliver and test the Link 16-capable low Earth orbit (LEO) spacecraft.

The contract for the first-ever LEO spacecraft was awarded under the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles XVI programme.

Link 16-capable LEO spacecraft has been designed to improve situational awareness for troops. It uses a constellation of satellites to provide greater access to Link 16 capabilities in contested or congested environments and extends the range of its networks.

Viasat Government Systems president Ken Peterman said: “Our innovative spacecraft design and development coupled with expertise in next-generation tactical datalinks and cybersecurity places Viasat in a unique position to address the Department of Defense’s urgent need for a fast-to-market, cost-effective, space-based Link 16 solution to maintain a technological edge in contested environments.”

Under the XVI programme, Viasat will prototype and test space-based Link 16 capabilities compatible with fielded US Air Force, US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, and Special Operations platforms.

The platforms also include ground vehicles, aircraft, maritime vessels, and dismounted users.

Serving as a key step towards making a global Link 16-enabled LEO satellite constellation, the programme transforms Link 16 from a line-of-sight (LOS) to a beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) network.

This provides secure and high-speed communications to the US and allied military forces.

Viasat’s Link 16-capable LEO satellite has been designed to fit the Viasat Hybrid Adaptive Network (HAN) satellite communications concept.

The spacecraft will allow Link 16 networks to leverage the global connectivity capabilities of the HAN and share information with other troops across the globe.

In a separate development, Viasat won a $450m contract from the US General Services Administration to support rapid migration of command, control, communications and computers / cyber capability best practices for US Special Operations Forces and US General Purpose Forces.