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July 2, 2021

Northrop Grumman delivers ESPAStar-D spacecraft bus for USAF NTS-3 mission

ESPAStar-D is designed to provide quick access to space at affordable costs.

L3Harris has received an ESPAStar-D spacecraft bus from Northrop Grumman in support of the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) mission.

The NTS-3 bus was built at Northrop’s advanced satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Arizona, US.

ESPAStar-D is designed to accommodate combinations of ‘hosted and separable experimental payloads’ on payload ports of six common and configurable ones.

According to the company, the platform uses an evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) secondary payload adapter (ESPA) ring as its primary structure.

The adapter allows multiple ESPAStars to be stacked together on a single launch vehicle.

The platform can support geosynchronous orbit (GEO), low Earth orbit (LEO) and medium Earth orbit (MEO) missions.

NTS-3 payload is designed to provide space-based position, navigation and timing for military troops. Its modular design supports various mission needs.

Northrop noted that the NTS-3 mission is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral next year.

In addition to the NTS-3 mission, Northrop is collaborating with the USAF Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) in its mission to deliver resilient and affordable space capabilities.

Northrop Grumman National Security Space, Tactical Space Systems vice-president Blake Bullock said: “Our unique ESPAStar platform provides proven solutions for customers seeking a modular, cost-effective and highly capable spacecraft bus for hosting technology development and operational payloads.

“ESPAStar’s innovative design offers unmatched flexibility for orbit locations and deployment, and we are proud to partner with L3Harris to meet all of our customers’ requirements, including target cost goals supporting the airforce’s on-orbit deployment schedule.”

In February last year, the USAF Research Laboratory gave its consent to L3Harris to continue the development of the NTS-3 programme.

The NTS-3 programme examines ways to improve the resiliency of the positioning, navigation and timing capabilities of the military.

Furthermore, it will develop key technologies that are relevant to the global positioning system (GPS) constellation, with the transition expected to the GPS IIIF programme in the future.

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